1. The mummies are the oldest
preserved remains in Greenland. Researchers realized they had a special
opportunity to study a part of Greenland's history, and they chose to do so as
nondestructively as possible. The mummies of the younger child and three of the women were
well preserved, and they were studied as found. Researchers did not undress them
or even cut into them, except for a small incision made in the women's backs.
The four other mummies were not particularly well preserved; their clothing was
removed so that it and their bodies could be studied more carefully.
2. Five of the six women mummies were
tattooed, as was customary with the Inuit. Infrared photographs
revealed that the tattooed women had black or dark blue lines on their faces. The lines were on the
forehead and arched over the eyebrows. Two of the women also had a dot tattooed
onto their forehead. Each woman had tattooed cheeks, while three had lines
tattooed beneath their chins.
3. The mystery surrounding their deaths
intrigued scientists. The fact that the two graves contained
women and children but no men puzzled researchers. They knew that the Inuit did
not bury women and children separately from men. So they wondered if the eight
had drowned together, perhaps when a boat capsized. However, the evidence seemed to rule out this possibility.
Researchers also tried to analyze the contents of the stomachs and
intestines to determine if the people had died at the same time, but researchers could find no
evidence relating to when the other seven people had died.
Finally, the researchers were able to identify with
some certainty the cause of death of only three people. One
woman had a malignant tumor near the base of her skull which most likely caused
her death. The older child had Calvé-Perthes disease, which afflicts
the hip joint and which would have made him vulnerable to other life-threatening
diseases. The younger child, a boy about six months old at death,
appeared to have been buried alive. Because they did not want to destroy the
mummy or its clothing, the researchers were limited to taking x-rays of the
child. Inuit custom at that time dictated
that the child be buried alive or suffocated by its father if a woman could not
be found to nurse it. Although such a practice seems cruel now, the Inuit
believed that the child and its mother would travel to the land of the dead
together. The researchers concluded that the child had been buried alive.