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500-Year-Old Mummy of a Six-Month-Old Baby Boy, Buried Alive with His Mother, Unearthed in a Greenland Cave

When two brothers stumbled upon the 500-year-old Inuits in 1972, they thought they’d discovered a recent burial.

n 1972, eight Qilakitsoq mummies were discovered in two tombs within a rocky crevasse in Greenland. This was, of course, not the first time researchers came across ancient mummies, but these were some of the best-preserved specimens ever found in Greenland.

The skin, fingernails, hair, and even eyebrows of the six adults and two young Inuits are plainly visible. They came to be known as the Qilakitsoq mummies for the abandoned Inuit settlement in which they were discovered, on the Nuussuaq Peninsula in northwestern Greenland.

The mummies were likely simple farmers and their mummification accidental. The subzero temperatures on the Greenland peninsula had naturally preserved the corpses, freeze-drying them against time. They were, in fact, so well-preserved that their organs could be examined and even their tattoos were visible.

Hand detail from one of the group of six women and two children all buried at the same grave site.
Perhaps most shocking about the discovery was that the youngest corpse, a six-month-old, appeared to have been buried alive.

The Initial Discovery Of The Qilakitsoq Mummies
Brothers Hans and Jokum Grønvold were hunting grouse when they happened upon the Qilakitsoq mummies under some rocks in 1972.

The corpses were stacked vertically with layers of animal hide between them. They still wore the furs that would have kept them warm during life in preparation for the hunt Inuits believed they would experience even in the afterlife.

It is believed that the Qilakitsoq mummies remained so well preserved because of the Arctic climate: freezing ground temperatures coupled with extremely dry air effectively freeze-dried the corpses, preserving their skin and innards for centuries.

Of the eight bodies, the infant was the best-preserved which archaeologists attribute to his size: he would have frozen must faster than his family members beside him.

Along with the bodies, the brothers discovered 78 additional pieces of clothing fashioned from reindeer and sealskin. After they alerted authorities, archaeologists then found a few other graves and the remains of abandoned homes at the Qilakitsoq settlement as well.

Archaeologists learned that three of the adult mummies were sisters. Buried with them were their children: an 18-year-old-daughter, a two to four-year-old son, and a six-month baby boy who was alive when buried with his mother.

Thule Inuits believed that burying the mother and child together would ensure that they entered the afterlife together. Indeed, a peaceful journey to the land of the dead was of utmost importance for this tribe. Further, it was believed that burying the baby with its mother avoided the infant’s likely inevitable, and more painful, death by starvation.

Testing revealed that the older son likely had a variation of Downs Syndrome. Thule custom dictated that this child was also likely buried alive, but sources differ on whether this was the case with this particular mummy.

The second grave contained the three women; two of which were related, and one who appeared to be unrelated to anyone else at the gravesite. It’s thought that she may have married into the family of the others buried beside her.

It became clear to researchers that the family had received a traditional Inuit burial in local rock formations. Their placement also helped to preserve them as it provided ample drainage, airflow, and sufficient protection from the weather.