The dead man, found by hikers 25 years ago this week a snowball's throw from the Austrian-Italian border and put in a wooden coffin at a nearby police station, turned out to have died more than 5,000 years ago.
Mummified in the ice, “Oetzi”, as he was later nicknamed, was a sensation, providing invaluable scientific insights that a quarter of a century later show no sign of abating.
“The iceman is without doubt one of the most outstanding mummy discoveries in the history of mankind,” said Angelika Fleckinger, director of the museum in Bolzano, Italy, where the mummy is on display.
“It's a unique window into the prehistoric era, and gives us an incredible amount of information,” she told AFP.
To put it into perspective, when Oetzi died around 3,350-3,100 BC, Stonehenge in England and the first Egyptian pyramids were still hundreds of years from being built.
He lived during the Late Neolithic or Copper Age when mineral extraction and copper smelting, which spread to Europe from the Near East, was fundamentally transforming human society.
Perhaps the resulting upheaval explains his still mysterious death. That he came to a sticky end was confirmed by the arrowhead lodged in his shoulder, only found in 2001, showing he had been shot from behind.
He would have bled to death in minutes and was possibly finished off with a whack on the head. He had at least had a large meal including barbecued ibex around 12 hours earlier, the contents of his stomach showed.
And his untimely demise high in the mountains meant for scientists that he was incredibly well-preserved, allowing detailed studies.
Unlike other ancient mummies, Oetzi is “damp”, meaning there is still humidity in his cells and his body is untouched by funeral rites. Egyptian specimens are generally without brains and other organs.