Qilakitsoq Mummies: North America's Best Preserved Mummies
Wed, April 21, 2021

Qilakitsoq Mummies: North America's Best Preserved Mummies

In 1972, Qilakitsoq, an archaeological site on the Nuussuaq Peninsula, on the shore of Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland, came to the world's attention / Photo by: David Stanley via Flickr

 

In 1972, Qilakitsoq, an archaeological site on the Nuussuaq Peninsula, on the shore of Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland, came to the world's attention. Hunters discovered the best-preserved human remains ever found in North America. They uncovered eight mummies, including six women and two children, that had been buried under a large pile of stones. 

Due to Greenland’s ice-cold climate, the frozen bodies were well-preserved. According to All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they see on the news or read in history books, their skin, fingernails, hair, and even eyebrows were plainly visible. Researchers and archaeologists immediately went to the site after being informed about the frozen bodies. They were able to date the mummies to approximately 1475 using unobtrusive methods such as x-rays.

The organs of the 500-year-old Qilakitsoq mummies, who were from the Inuit tribe, were so well-preserved that they could be examined. Aside from the bodies, archaeologists also discovered 78 additional pieces of clothing fashioned from reindeer and sealskin. However, the most shocking discovery was the youngest corpse, believed to be only six months old when buried alive. The infant was the best-preserved among all the mummies due to his size. Archaeologists believe that he had frozen faster than his family members beside him. 

According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, five of the female mummies all had facial tattoos, which indicated their social status. The youngest woman had no tattoos, which indicated that she was not married or had no children. 

All About the Inuit People

Most people nowadays are not aware of the Inuit, aboriginal people who live in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Siberia and North America. They are known as Eskimos, which means "eaters of raw meat." The Inuit originally migrated from Siberia to Alaska before they arrived at the shores of Greenland in the 13th century. They managed to survive the world’s harshest conditions and fed themselves whales, seals, polar bears, muskoxen, birds, fish, and reindeer. 

According to Oceanwide Expeditions, a Dutch company specializing in expedition-style voyages to Antarctica and the Arctic, the Inuit are believed to be sophisticated navigators who used stars to guide their way. They followed a moral code based on ancient myths and legends to survive in a harsh environment. Some of their beliefs were expressed in their art as carvings called tupilaq, or “evil spirit objects.” 

Like other indigenous people, they usually use all parts of the animal efficiently for food, clothes, and tools as a way to respect the land and ocean that provided for them. Until this day, the Inuit greatly value resourcefulness, inclusiveness, collaboration, and “decision making through discussion and consensus.” While most Inuit have transitioned to traditional wage-earning work to earn money for electricity and other modern comforts, the hunting culture, skills, and diet have remained a part of their lives and identity. 

However, the traditional lifestyle of the Inuit is dramatically changing due to climate change. Reports show that global temperatures have increased by two to five degrees Celsius over the last 50 years, greatly affecting the Arctic. What was once familiar territory has become unstable for them. It has been difficult and dangerous for them to travel.

Most people nowadays are not aware of the Inuit, aboriginal people who live in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Siberia and North America. They are known as Eskimos, which means "eaters of raw meat" / Photo by: TeodorLazarev via Shutterstock

 

How Did the Qilakitsoq Mummies Die?

The reason for these mummies’ death has baffled researchers for many years. The fact that the two graves contained women and children but no men puzzled them. Research shows that the Inuit did not bury women and children separately from men, which raises more questions on why and how they died and were buried all together. The researchers analyzed the contents of the stomachs and intestines of the bodies, hoping to find out if they died at the same time. 

According to Ancient Origins, an online site that covers news and articles relating to our ancient origins, all of the mummies were well-nourished before their deaths. Their diet consisted of 75% seafood and 25% from plants and animals. However, researchers discovered huge amounts of soot in the lymph nodes of the lungs of all the frozen bodies. Aside from that, the mummies were heavily infested with lice. They recovered remnants of lice from some of their intestines. 

Fortunately, the researchers were able to identify the cause of death of the bodies but only for three people. They found out that one woman had a malignant tumor near the base of her skull; the older child had Calvé-Perthes disease, which made him vulnerable to other life-threatening diseases, and the infant appeared to have been buried alive. 

The infant was buried alive because it was believed that infants must be buried alive if their mothers died. This was a common practice among the Inuit during that time because the tribe could not afford to support people who they felt would have no ability to contribute to obtaining food, making clothing, or building shelter. Inuit custom also believed that the child and its mother should travel to the land of the dead together.

As of now, four of the Qilakitsoq mummies are on display at the Greenland National Museum.