'Ice man' experts get Great War soldier

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The Independent Online

They were hanging upside down like three bats, their frozen heads dangling in the icy air, ice-encrusted uniforms still cladding their mummified bodies, glued to a wall of ice. They were soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian empire who died in battle on 3 September 1918; 12,000ft up in the Italian Alps.

They were hanging upside down like three bats, their frozen heads dangling in the icy air, ice-encrusted uniforms still cladding their mummified bodies, glued to a wall of ice. They were soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian empire who died in battle on 3 September 1918; 12,000ft up in the Italian Alps.

The first intact, mummified casualties of the war between Austria and Italy for control of the Alps to come to light were discovered last Friday by Maurizio Vicenzi, 42.

He and a group of friends had already brought back rifles, machine guns, bombs and other items from the battlefield. But this discovery dwarfs the rest.

One of the three soldiers had lost his head, and all had lost their nails and body hair, but otherwise they were perfectly preserved. It is believed they died on Punta San Matteo, in one of many fierce battles fought along a 50-mile front.

The bodies were brought down from the mountain on Sunday by helicopter. On Tuesday they were accorded a funeral attended by 300 people, with full military honours.

Two of the soldiers were then buried, but the third was transferred to a hospital in Bolzano. Three of the top experts on Otzi, the ice man who died in these mountains 5,300 years ago and was discovered in 1991, have been given three months to examine him.

One of the experts, Dr Alex Susanna, director of the South Tyrol Archeological Museum in Bolzano, where Otzi is displayed, said: "Until now all comparative studies have been between Otzi and artificial mummies. Now we have a natural mummy, preserved like Otzi above 3,000 metres, in very low temperatures and with strong winds and in humid conditions. We want to compare the body tissue of the two mummies." They are also curious to discover why Otzi retained his hair and nails for 5,300 years, while the Austrians lost theirs in less than 90.

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