The Man in the Ice by Konrad Spindler Weidenfeld & Nicolson $250 IT was a dignified death. Injured, maybe after an attack by marauders, maybe during an internal village dispute, the man had fled to the high ground on what are now the Otztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border. There, as a blizzard or fog closed in and exhaustion took over, in a gully in the rock, perhaps familiar from previous crossings of what was a well-known pass between the mountains, he settled down for the night. He left his axe, bow and back-pack on the ledge of a rock. He may have eaten a last meal of tough, dried ibex meat. He dropped his quiver and, with pain piercing his right side from a broken rib, he lay down for a short rest. His clothes froze as the temperature dropped and he drifted to sleep. Death followed soon afterwards. By the morning his frozen corpse was covered with snow; within hours he had been engulfed by the outer reaches of the glacier. All this happened 5,300 years ago and the fact that the last hours of this Neolithic hunter and herdsman can be described in such extraordinary detail is due to the highly undignified way in which the Iceman came back into the human world in 1991, as a mummified corpse spotted by two climbers out for an afternoon's quiet mountaineering. This time there was to be no solitude. His largely preserved body - the skin and a few of his clothes were intact, many of his possessions were found nearby - was poked at, manhandled and abused to free it from the grip of the ice before the importance of this astonishing find was realised. Here was not what was first surmised; the body of a climber given up by the glacier after a few score years, or maybe even a traveller lost for a couple of centuries. This was a Stone Age European who had come back from the dead to share his secrets withthe modern world. It would be gratifying to think that he was welcomed with open arms; but much bickering between scientists and countries followed the find - Austria first claimed the body, to be criticised by the Italians who wanted him for themselves. And passersby within the first couple of days of his reappearance made off with bits of equipment which were essential to creating the picture of his death described above. It was only when they were retrieved that experts like Austrian Konrad Spindler were able to retreat to their laboratories and, with the best that modern science can offer, pinpoint his age - he was in late 30s - and then piece together the story of his life and times. For Spindler, like any specialist given out of the blue the ultimate in research material, the Iceman was a human Holy Grail. Due to the static nature of this particular glacier, unlike most bodies given up by the ice, his was untouched and intact. Frozen in an unmoving glacier, the Iceman and his equipment had been preserved for thousands of years. Painstakingly Spindler worked on the clues offered by the body itself, its parasites, hair, teeth and broken bones; the material the man was carrying, his bow, arrows, dagger and axe; and the remains of the clothes that he wore. From that he painted a picture of a man born nearly 3,500 years before Christ; how he lived, ate, worked and, ultimately, how he died. That kind of expertise can only be found in the best-ordered and clinical minds and, unfortunately for the general reader, specialists like Spindler are not as skilled in keeping the interest of the layman as they are in proving whatever scientific points are essential for posterity. Hence, The Man in the Ice requires a great deal of patience as the Austrian describes in tedious detail the events of the days and weeks that followed the discovery; the disputes between the rival scientists and the technical aspects of his research. It is only in the last half of this 300-page book that the average romantic can glean some idea of what all this detective work was leading to. Despite such frustrations, it is hard not to read to the end as fascinating tidbits keep appearing. For example, during more than 5,000 years climatic conditions and the formation of the glacier freed this body for just six days. It would have swallowed it again within a very short space of time. And however remote the Iceman may appear to us today, his descendants - presuming he had offspring to start with - after 5,000 years of human multiplication could theoretically now total 1,500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. .