A Lakehead University professor and his former student could be considered the envy of anthropologists worldwide.

Carney Matheson is the chair of the department of anthropology at Lakehead University. He recently travelled to Italy to study artifacts found with Europe's oldest naturally preserved mummy.

Ötzi the Ice Man died over 5,000 years ago. He was discovered in 1991, when two hikers stumbled across his remains in the Italian Alps. 

"It's extremely rare for researchers to even get access to Ötzi. He is frozen in a vault in Bolzano, Italy, and so to get permission to work on Ötzi usually requires a number of years of application" said Matheson. "In this case we were invited to do the research, so that's even more rare."

Matheson got the chance to study the tools Ötzi was carrying when he died. They include a knife, axe, arrows, and first-aid supplies. It's hoped that by analyzing residues, including blood, on the artifacts, researchers can learn more about how Ötzi died. It's also an opportunity to learn about how tools were made 5,300 years ago. 

Carney Matheson

It's hoped that analysis of residues on Ötzi's tools and weapons will provide insight into how he lived and died. (Jon Cruise)

Matheson is conducting the research with former student, Margaret-Ashley Veall, now a PhD candidate at Oxford University. 

"I've dreamed of being able to work on mummies like the Ice Man and Egyptian mummies, and that sort of thing since I was a child and so this is pretty well a dream come true for me," said Veall. 

Mysteries swirl around life of Ötzi the Ice Man

The mummy has fascinated experts who wish to unravel the mystery of who he was, and how he met his untimely demise. Veal says there are many theories about what kind of life Ötzi lived - whether he was a warrior, a nobleman, a metal worker, or a hunter - and why he was found where he was. 

"Nobody seems to know what he was doing up in the mountains at that time, where he came from. And really many of the stories surrounding him are about whether he was a hunter, whether or not he was chased up into those mountains and suffered a violent end."

Veall says she and Matheson hope to release some preliminary research results by early 2015.