"In 1972 two brothers on a grouse hunt found a number of approximately 500-year-old mummies."
A historical glimpse of the hunting culture of the past
The Qilakitsoq mummies are probably one of Greenland’s most famous treasures, and they are tucked away in a corner of Greenland National Museum & Archives.
In this video, Deputy Director of the National Museum, Bo Albrechtsen, introduces the Greenland mummies that were found north of Disko Bay in the Uummannaq region.
He talks about:
- The mummies and other contents in their grave, including the possible live burial of the 6-month-old baby.
- Life in the Thule culture and the Inuit’s relationship to life and death
- Taboos and tattoos back then
Qilakitsoq is an old Inuit settlement on the Nuussuaq peninsula on the west coast of Greenland around 450 km north of the Arctic Circle. In 1972 two brothers on a grouse hunt found a number of approximately 500-year-old mummies in the same grave underneath an outcrop of rock. Owing to a combination of the particular location on a north-facing slope, the dry air and the low temperatures, the mummified remains were in a particularly good state of preservation. This enabled a successful excavation.
There were six women and two children, including a six month old baby boy, all of whom were fully dressed. The discovery of the remains brought with it a lot of new knowledge concerning the Inuit way of life and their clothing. The eight bodies were equipped for a long journey into life after death, since according to beliefs at the time, it was considered necessary to be prepared for hunting even after death.
"There were six women and two children, all of whom were fully dressed."
Exhibited in Nuuk
The original mummies are now on display at the National Museum in Nuuk. These discoveries have given us a unique insight into an era of Greenland's history which is otherwise very sparsely documented.
The display shows the conditions under which the discovery was made, as well as the many other items of clothing that followed these people into the grave some 500 years ago.
The mummy which attracts the most attention is the six-month-old baby, which was possibly buried alive. In the past, if the mother died and no other person was able to look after the baby, the community had no choice but to bury the baby with the mother, in order to save it from a slow death. The Qilakitsoq mummies reveal much about the Inuits’ relationship to life and death, and that difficult decisions often had to be made in hard times.
"The original mummies are now on display at the National Museum in Nuuk."
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