Ötzi the Iceman – 3250-3100BC arrow

Found in September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps (South Tyrol, Italy), Ötzi is a more or less intact mummified neolithic archer from a secure context with his equipment. Now held in cryogenic conditions in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, his quiver of arrows is of primary interest here.


They’ve just updated the museum’s website and reduced the amount of information presented. The old website said about the arrows:

The unfinished shafts are between 84 and 87 cm long and made of the shoots of viburnum sapwood. The bark had been removed, but they had not yet been smoothed. All had notches cut into the ends.
Both finished arrows had flint arrowheads fixed to the shaft with birch tar and then bound with thread. The other ends bear the remains of three-part radial fletching attached with birch tar and thin nettle thread….

Two of Ötzi’s arrows

Iceman Flint arrowhead c3200BC
One of the flint arrowheads

It is the first time that fletching had ever been preserved on prehistoric arrows. One of the arrows had a two-part shaft with a short extension of dogwood inserted into the main shaft.

That also make it the earliest example of a footed shaft, unfortunately, the website gave no detail on the type of feathers. The ones on the museum’s reconstruction are unshaped duck.

Iceman arrow
Reconstructed arrow from the ANMM exhibition in 2008. Whoever did this one didn’t pay much attention to the way the tar was applied to the originals.

The website also claimed, without specifying which two arrows or which way the majority are wrapped:

According to technical archaeologist Harm Paulsen, the two arrows could not have been fashioned by the same person. The fletching shows that one was wound by a left-hander and the other by a right-hander.

… which I assert is utter bollocks. To wrap an arrow with a Z-twist, put it on your lap with the head pointing to the left and roll it away from you. To do an S-twist, lay the arrow the same way and roll it toward you. The use of S- or Z-twist depends entirely on which wing the feathers came from.

My Reconstruction

Ötzi arrow
Ötzi arrow

Compromises were made due to local availability of suitable materials. I selected one particular arrow to copy as they are all different from each other. The shaft is 33″ Mountain Ash, there’s no way I’m going to be able to get viburnum. The nock was cut with a saw, then enlarged and shaped with files.

The point was sold as a British flint head, but if that were the case, it should have a pointed tang rather than the cross. I suspect they are really Native American and made from chert, but was near enough to be able to knap the tang to a more correct shape. It fits a split in the shaft, bound with linen and secured with pitch.

Fletching is duck for no other reason that that’s what the museum used for theirs. I’m not entirely convinced by the profile, but I’ve mirrored the museum’s in case they know something they aren’t saying. Mine are 5.5″ long. The feathers were cut with a sharp knife, lightly glued to the shaft, bound with thread and secured with pitch. Binding continues to the base of the nock.

I’ve used linen rather than nettle thread on the binding and pine pitch rather than birch. Binding is done in a S twist, just to demonstrate that it can be done right-handed.

Please note that these are intended for display only, as the heads are too fragile for use an anything harder than a hay bale.