We know that the purpose of refrigeration is to keep a product that needs refrigeration as fresh and usable for as long as possible. But do we really expect refrigeration to do the job for 5,300 years?

In this case, the product is Otzi the Iceman (also known as Frozen Fritz) found in 1991 in a glacier (natural refrigeration) in the Alps along the Austrian-Italian border. Ends up, the well-preserved mummy was of a man from about 3,300 B.C.

The mummy was taken to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where it was housed in a refrigerated igloo (mechanical refrigeration).

A lot of research has been done on Otzi/Fritz, but according to some recent reports, he is showing signs of decomposition and gray spots on one knee indicating gas formation. There is also some concern about dehydration, so the mummy is vaporized with sterilized ice water every two to three months (preventive maintenance?).

So far, what I've written about mainly consists of examples of natural and mechanical refrigeration and some of the unique challenges of preserving something even with the best of today's refrigeration technology.

But there's more to this story. Otzi apparently has a curse. A number of Websites and publications tell the tales. The January 2006 Newsletter of the International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) summarizes it this way:

"Seven persons who had been in contact with Otzi have died prematurely: a molecular archaeologist who discovered human blood in Otzi's weapons and clothing, the forensic pathologist who dug Otzi out of the snow, the mountain guide who led the initial party to Otzi, the journalist who was the first to film the mummy, the hiker who found Otzi in the first place, the head of the team that found the hiker's body, and the head of the Otzi investigating team at the University of Innsbruck."

The usually staid and scientific folks at IIR conclude their report by saying, "Strange coincidence or curse? Take your pick!"

What I see is that such topics as Otzi can prove an interesting ‘hook' for those trying to attract new folks to the industry and educators trying to hold the interest of students. The role refrigeration plays in Otzi's 5,300-year existence is one aspect as to how far refrigeration can go in preservation efforts.

A Google or Yahoo search of ‘Otzi the Iceman' will produce several thousand sources.

Only one request: Don't promise potential technicians or current students that Angelina Jolie as ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider' is part of the equation.

Peter Powell, Refrigeration Editor, 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), peterpowell@achrnews.com

Publication date: 05/01/2006