The Qilakitsoq mummies are the oldest preserved remains in Greenland and were discovered in 1972 by two brothers who were hiking in the area and became curious about a stack of rocks. A 6 month old Inuit baby, a two-year-old boy, and six women of various ages, who were buried in two graves protected by a rock overhang in a shallow cave were discovered.
The bodies were naturally mummified by the sub-zero temperatures and dry, dehydrating winds, and were dated to about AD 1470. The dry, freezing conditions resulted in natural mummification, as the overhanging rock protected the bodies, which archaeologists discovered in two graves, a meter apart. The first grave contained 3 women, a small boy, and a six-month-old baby found resting on one of the women. Two of the women were younger, one between 20-30, the other was 25-35 years of age. The third woman was between 40-50. The second grave contained three female bodies. Two were in their 50s while the third woman was between 18-21 years of age.
Researchers could find no evidence relating to how most died. Different theories such as freezing, food poisoning, drowning, or epidemic are all unsupported by any evidence, and scientists have been unable to determine if they died at the same time or not. It was determined that the infant was probably placed in the grave alive, apparently one of the dead women was the mother, and no other women of the tribe were able or willing to able to take on his care; Inuit custom held that a tribe might suffocate or bury a child alive if they could not find a woman to care for it after the death of its mother.
One of the older women was found to be deaf and blind, and studies revealed that she suffered from a variety of medical issues including a malignant tumor. The two-year-old boy was found to have Down’s Syndrome and may have been left out to die of exposure because of this condition. This was a common practice among the Inuit of the time, the society could not afford to support people who they felt would have no ability to contribute.
The bodies were found stacked on top of each other with layers of animal skin in between. They were in two graves, a meter apart. DNA studies indicated that there were two sets of related mummies and one mummy unrelated to either of the groups, who is thought to have perhaps married into the family.
All of the mummies were well-nourished in the period before death, on a diet that consisted of 75% seafood and 25% from plants and animals, such as reindeer. Accompanying the eight bodies were seventy-eight items of clothing, most made out of seal skin.
Sheldon, N. (2013, September 22). The Qilakitsoq Mummies: Who Were They, and How Did They Die? Retrieved from http://decodedpast.com/qilakitsoq-mummies-die/3033
Hasen, J. (n.d.). Qilakitsoq - The Home of the Greenland Mummies. Retrieved from http://www.ourheritage.net/great_adventures/marine_expedtions/northwest_passage/Uummannaq/Mummies.html Holloway, A. (2014, February 10).
The mummies of Qilakitsoq and the Inuit baby that captured hearts around the world. Retrieved from. http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-americas/mummies-qilakitsoq-and-inuit-baby-captured-hearts-around-world-001325