Greenland, the world’s largest island, is best known for being almost entirely covered in ice. But there’s a few quirky attractions to be found beyond the spectacular ice-covered landscape.
Almost hidden away in a corner of Greenland National Museum in Nuuk lies this incredible set of mummies that were frozen in an icy cave for hundreds of years. They are the best-preserved human remains ever discovered in North America.
These 500-year-old mummies were found frozen under a pile of stones in a cave in by two brothers in 1972. They were hunting for grouse outside the abandoned Qilakitsoq settlement in the remote Uummannaq region of northern Greenland when they made the discovery. The two grave chambers contained six adult women and two children.
A six-month old child
The cause of death was unknown but the bodies represent three generations of the same family. The youngest of the children is just six months old.
Stories from the local Thule culture tell that very young children were sometimes buried with their dead mothers, even if the child was alive. According to the stories, the thought process behind this ritual was that there would be no-one left in the family to take care of the child. Museum Deputy Director Bo Albrechtsen said that although it’s possible that happened in this case, it’s impossible to say either way.
Using unobtrusive methods such as x-ray, researchers were able to date the mummies to approximately 1475. According to the museum, it is likely everyone died at the same time, shorty after arriving at the winter settlement in the fall. They were all fully-dressed and wrapped in fur, with extra furs buried alongside them for the journey into the afterlife.
Five of the women all have facial tattoos, a tradition said to indicate kinship and/or social status. The youngest adult woman had no tattoos, indicating she was not married or had no children. Tattoos were a common feature in Thule culture and lasted until European missionaries arrived in Greenland.
Four of the Qilakitsoq mummies are on permanent display at the Greenland National Museum in Nuuk. Admission is free but opening hours are seasonal. By arrangement, groups are able to visit the Uummannaq region to understand more about how the Thule lived and where the graves were found.
Growing interest in Greenland
Interest in Greenland has surged since the news broke that President Trump was making enquiries about the possibility of the U.S. acquiring the island.
Economist Hayley Berg from travel app Hopper said that interest in Greenland from Americans rose by 337% following the news coverage, while Intrepid Travel also reported increased interest ahead of their 2020 tours launch.