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Here's an expert's take on 'Iceman' - the film about the oldest known human mummy's prehistoric life


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The extraordinary survival thriller Iceman coming to cinemas and on demand this week. The unique and fascinating film is inspired by the discovery of ‘Ötzi The Iceman’, the oldest known human mummy found in 1991, approximately 5300 years after his death, so who better to review it than experimental archaeologist and educator at Southampton University, James Dilley.

Alongside his work with Southampton Uni, James has worked on exhibitions for the British Museum and Stonehenge, TV projects, and further public outreach in the hope of encouraging people of all ages to learn about long-lost crafts by bringing back to life our ancestors' skills and knowledge from the primitive past.

James Dilley in full Otzi gear

Here's James' take on the Iceman, and the film that's essentially an imagined recontruction of what Ötzi's life would have been like:

"Ötzi (the Iceman) is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, offering a very rare view of a prehistoric person. News of a film being made about Ötzi was exciting to me as an archaeologist specialising in early prehistory. I have been practicing the craft of flintknapping (making stone tools) since I was 10 years old in my parent’s garden, now I demonstrate the skill on TV, in books and at museums such as the British Museum. During my early years of practice and starting to get into the world of early prehistory, my parents announced we would be driving down to Italy for our Holiday. There would be an opportunity to stop in Bolzano (Italy), the place where Ötzi is currently on display. It was a highlight of the holiday and was like rocket fuel to my early interests into prehistory.

"Perhaps the main thing that jumped out to me about Iceman was the brutality of the times. With seemingly crude implements and methods of fighting, the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Europe were violent times. This authenticity set the trend for much of the film. Usually films about prehistory are filled with errors or artistic licence, but Iceman is a brilliant piece of accurate work. The costume, houses, and equipment all looked great and showed lots of research had been done. I can vouch for the practicality of some of the types of clothes found with Ötzi having made replicas and tested them, but it would have been very cold high in the Alps.

James Dilley in Otzi's hunting gear

"There is little in the way of speaking during the film as it is made clear before the film starts that it is not necessary to understand the type of early Rhaetic (a pre Roman language spoken in the region of the Alps). This was a sensible decision by the film producers as (again) it added an authentic flavour to the film. Perhaps the one thing that was missing from the film, which would have been well-placed at the end, was around 10 – 15 mins showing the discovery (then recovery) and following media coverage. The recovery was filmed and the find made worldwide news so would have given a solid end to what was a great film. So much has been learnt about Ötzi since the discovery and new developments often reaches the news every 6 months or so. He is still very much in the public eye 5300 years after his death and his discovery in 1991. 

"Overall Iceman flows easily in a beautiful environment, showcasing a time period that often isn’t given a fair representation in films. The story is captivating, honest and brutal and does a fantastic job of showing the ingenuity and sheer grit of some of our earliest European ancestors. Ötzi’s story is a fascinating one (from the discovery and research), the only part missing so far was the time leading up to his demise. Iceman does a great job of filling this gap and will hopefully encourage people to either visit him in Italy or read up on him further.  

Find out more about James Dilley at / @ancientcraftuk

Find out more about the five-thousand-year-old murder mystery of Iceman at

Iceman hits UK cinemas on July 27th, distributed by Bulldog.

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