In a remote corner of northwestern Greenland, a story frozen in time awaits discovery. The mummies of Qilakitsoq and the haunting Inuit baby who captured hearts worldwide are an astonishing glimpse into the past, shrouded in mystery and intrigue. This extraordinary find, dating back to 1475 AD, provides invaluable insights into the lives of Greenland’s indigenous people from over 500 years ago. Join us as we delve into the chilling yet captivating story of the mummies of Qilakitsoq.
A Startling Discovery
His little face still gazes skyward, as if eternally waiting for his mother’s return. The tale begins with the astonishing discovery of a seemingly lifeless Inuit baby, whose image would soon grace the covers of magazines and news stories worldwide. Initially mistaken for a doll, the small Inuit infant was, in fact, the preserved body of a six-month-old baby boy. Tragically, he was buried alongside his already deceased mother, presumably because there was no one left to care for him.
The small Inuit baby was not alone in this icy resting place. Alongside him lay a two-year-old boy and six women of varying ages, all of whom were interred in separate graves beneath a protective overhang of rock. These bodies, preserved by the sub-zero temperatures and dry, dehydrating winds, offer an unparalleled opportunity to understand the Greenland Inuit of a bygone era.
Qilakitsoq: The Place of the Small Sky
The mummies of Qilakitsoq were discovered serendipitously at an abandoned Inuit settlement known as Qilakitsoq, which translates to “place of the small sky.” Located on the Nuussuaq Peninsula, this settlement overlooks the Uummannaq Fjord, a picturesque yet unforgiving landscape in northwestern Greenland.
The mummies were found carefully arranged in two separate graves, each one meter apart. The first grave contained three women, a two-year-old boy, and the six-month-old baby, while the second grave held three more women. DNA analysis revealed that two sets of mummies were related, while one mummy appeared unrelated, possibly having married into the family.
A Glimpse into the Past
The diet of these ancient Inuit people was another revelation. In the period leading up to their deaths, their nutrition primarily consisted of seafood, comprising 75% of their diet, with the remaining 25% sourced from plants and animals, including reindeer. Accompanying these eight bodies were seventy-eight items of clothing, most of which were skillfully crafted from seal skin.
One of the most poignant discoveries was that the two-year-old boy had Down’s Syndrome. In a reflection of the time’s harsh realities, it’s believed that he may have been left to perish from exposure due to his condition, as the society could ill afford to support individuals deemed unable to contribute to essential tasks like food procurement, clothing, and shelter construction.
Among the women, one elderly lady was found to be both deaf and blind, her remains showing signs of various ailments, including a malignant tumor. Additionally, five of the six women bore facial tattoos, a significant cultural revelation uncovered through infrared photography. The tattoos, featuring black lines on the forehead arching over the eyebrows, along with dot tattoos and cheek and chin lines, revealed distinctive styles representing different tribal origins.
The Unsolved Mystery
The circumstances surrounding the deaths of the mummies of Qilakitsoq continue to perplex scientists. Inuit tradition did not involve the separation of women and children from men during burials, making the exclusive presence of women and children in these graves a puzzle. Initially, the theory that they had perished together in a umiaq (a woman’s boat) accident was considered, possibly explaining the absence of men. However, further studies have refuted this hypothesis.
As of now, apart from the baby, the two-year-old boy, and the elderly woman with a tumor, researchers have found no conclusive evidence regarding the cause of death for the other individuals. Theories of freezing, food poisoning, or an epidemic lack substantiated proof, and the timeline of their deaths remains elusive.
What is known with certainty is that the small Inuit baby was buried alive, adhering to Inuit custom that demanded the burial of a child alongside their mother in the event that no one could care for them after her passing.
The mummies of Qilakitsoq and the Inuit baby have cast a radiant light on the daily lives of Inuit people who lived over five centuries ago. This extraordinary discovery has not only provided remarkable insights into their culture and survival strategies but has also left us with numerous unanswered questions. As we stand in awe of these mummies, we can’t help but wonder about the untold tales of the past, shrouded in the icy embrace of Qilakitsoq.