Greenland Mummies

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In 1972, a group of mummies were discovered in two gravesites in the Qilakitsoq area of Greenland. The Greenland Mummies are the best-preserved remains found in North America. They date back to the mid-1400s. This period of time is associated with the Thule culture in the Arctic, an earlier form of modern Inuit culture. Two young children and six women were interred in the gravesites, and were mummified naturally in the freezing temperatures.

In keeping with Inuit tradition, five of the six women had facial tattoos. The tattoos consist mostly of curved lines applied on the forehead and cheeks. The basic forehead design arched over and between the eyebrows in a loose 'M' shape. Some of the mummies had small elaborations added to this, such as "flicks" on the ends. Lines on the cheeks began just beneath the outer corners of the eye and flowed diagonally as far as the nostrils. These too had "flicks" on the ends beside the eyes. The chins of three mummies were decorated with a series of vertical lines. Dots on the forehead and cheeks were also present on some.

The tattoos had been applied using a sewing method which is also seen in other tattooing cultures. A needle and thread were dipped in ink or a dye, and then sewn under the skin. The threads were pulled out afterwards, with a thumb pressing on the skin to help retain the ink. The designs would have been sewn freehand after a guide was drawn onto the skin.

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