Thursday, November 19, 2009
Mummification in Alaska is something I never thought possible; it was something I only saw in the movies. I became very interested in the Unangax culture, where mummification was part of their everyday life.
The Unangaxs would mummify their dead by removing viscera from the body cavity and then stuffing the body with grass. Then they would suspend it over their normal sleeping place in a wooden cradle-like frame in their house. There the body would lie for several months because the Unangan people wanted to prolong the presence of the dead. Afterwards, most of the dead were buried under the house or in the house walls. However, Unangan whalers in the eastern and central areas of the Aleutian chain were buried differently; they were mummified for reasons such as giving luck to future whalers by taking away part of their flesh before a hunting trip.
Other Unangax people of the Aleutian chain mummified their dead differently. Archaeologists have discovered more than 50 mummies dating back to 250 years ago in one Aleutian cave. These mummies were handled differently from the type of mummification i mentioned before. After taking out the body cavity and stuffing it with grass, they would then take the body to a stream so the water would wash away the body fat, leaving only the skin and muscle. Next they would bend the knees into a squatting position and let it dry outside in the open air. After it was dried, the body was wrapped in several layers of waterproof material and woven clothing, and then placed in a cave. The body would either be hung from the ceiling or on top of a platform so it would not get wet from the floor. In some of these caves along with the body, archaeologists have found kayaks, hunting equipment, armor, shields, knives, drums, and masks. With female mummies they have found other belongings such as, dishes of wood, knives, basketry, mats, and other essentials. These caves are more like Aleutian museums, that have been very carefully preserved. I wonder if the archaeologists found any parkas with the mummies.