Friday, March 27, 2009

What is Elfshot?

I was listening to The Current this morning on CBC radio and the second segment of the show was about elves in Iceland. So it seems like a good day to blog about Elfshot.

So, what is Elfshot? Not so long ago, when people found stone tools in their pastures and fields they didn't have the benefit of the modern science of archaeology to explain their origins. In many countries people thought that the tiny stone arrowheads were made by elves or fairies who had been out shooting the cattle. Stone arrowheads were called Elfshot or Fairie Darts or Elf Arrows.

Here's a fantastic example of Elfshot from the National Museums of Scotland. Its a 19th century charm from the highlands. I love this charm, if there are any craftspeople reading this who feel inspired, I can make the stone, can you make the setting?

In some countries these beliefs are so strongly ingrained in popular beliefs that they are still affecting policy and industry today. On the Current this morning they were discussing the widespread Icelandic belief in Elves. This belief is so strong today that protecting elven habitat is part of the environmental impact assessment process for companies looking to break ground in the country. Here's an article that goes into more detail on Icelandic Elven Impact Assessments.

Apart from my obvious interest in "Elfshot" I find this fascinating as an archaeologist. Much of the archaeology work that I've been involved with has been Cultural Resource Management (CRM) which assesses the impact that construction projects will have on historical and archaeological resources. Archaeologists have the benefit of having tangible artifacts and sites to support their claims of mysterious ancient people, and even so it can be difficult to explain the significance of the evidence to the client. So I can definitely feel for the folks who have to try to re-route a road to avoid an invisible elven habitat that exists in another dimension!

There's a longer post in here about oral traditions and archaeology, that I'll come back to on another day. In the arctic, the Inuit have always maintained that they were not the first people on the land. There was another people who they called the Tunit. In the last 80 years or so archaeology has caught up with the Inuit knowledge and the people that archaeologists call the Dorset or Palaeoeskimos seem to be the same people who the Inuit call the Tunit. The Tunit stories considered along side the archaeological evidence of these people can provide a fascinating and unique portrait of an extinct people.

Photo Credit:
Top, National Museums of Scotland
Bottom, The Rooms

Photo Caption:
Top, 19th Century 'Saighead Shith' or 'Fairy Arrow' charm from Scotland
Bottom, Tunit/Dorset Paleoeskimo soapstone carving from northern Labrador

1 comment:

  1. I tend to believe it is slingshot. This was commonly used in Iron Age Castles and before. When people miraculously developed rashes I am sure people once believed it was elfshot. In scotland Unseelie elves are supposed to attack people, whereas Seelies are good elves.


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