Unangax̂ Mummies as Whalers: A Multidisciplinary Contextualization of Human Mummification in the Aleutian Islands

Day, Kathleen (2019) Unangax̂ Mummies as Whalers: A Multidisciplinary Contextualization of Human Mummification in the Aleutian Islands. Doctoral thesis, University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

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Abstract

This thesis provides an analysis of Unangax̂ (Aleut) mummification in the context of their other methods of body deposition. It explores the hypothesis that whalers and their families belonged to an ancient shamanistic whaling complex that existed throughout coastal regions that practiced whaling. This thesis presents an explanation pertaining to the reasons behind mummification and serves as an organized compilation of the most pertinent past and recent data regarding Unangax̂ mortuary customs and rituals. A multidisciplinary approach is used that combines social anthropological theory, archaeological data, and ethnohistorical records. The known methods of precontact body deposition are evaluated in contrast to mummification. It is suggested that mummification proved to be the most complex of these methods and was reserved for the whaling elite and perhaps others of high rank in Unangax̂ communities. A comparative approach based on ethnographic analogy further explores the metaphysical relationship between hunter and whale. The geographical boundary for this study is also widened because mummification was practiced in regions contiguous to the Aleutians. Literature pertaining to the passage between life and death focuses on the liminality of the soul. This concept is presented as one of the prime elements in understanding mummification. The interpretation offered in this thesis builds on a recent approach to this topic, which suggests that individuals were deliberately mummified so they could remain in a state of persistent liminality in order to be preserved for their power. The findings of this thesis suggest that mummification in the Aleutians was a key aspect to whaling. Whalers needed courage and power, and this was accomplished through the use of mummified bodies of whalers and their lineage members that were iv secreted in caves to be used as magical talismans. This ancient whaling complex is examined through the paradigms of liminality and shamanism. Members were initiated into a spiritual and dangerous world, which thereby elevated their status in the community. It is proposed that whalers also performed the mummification. This interpretation advances the study Unangax̂ mortuary rituals and sets the stage for further research.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: E History America > E11 America (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GT Manners and customs
Divisions: Institutes and Academies > Institute of Education and Humanities
Depositing User: Lesley Cresswell
Date Deposited: 06 Apr 2020 09:11
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2020 11:35
URI: http://repository.uwtsd.ac.uk/id/eprint/1260

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