Monday, May 11, 2009

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Knives

The Dorset Palaeoeskimo were seal hunters who lived in Newfoundland from about 2100 years ago until 1300 years ago. In the animal kingdom, the polar bear is the top seal predator, so its not surprising that polar bears show up frequently in Dorset artwork.

In the Province, there have been Dorset carvings of polar bears done in soapstone, bone, antler, wood and ivory. One of the most common artifacts are small polar bear head amulets that range from naturalistic to highly stylized. They tend to have holes gouged in them (the Dorset didn't have drills) positioned at the mouth and the throat. Sometimes they have eyes and ears and noses and other times they'll just be the stylized outline of the head.

One of the diagnostic stone artifacts found in Dorset assemblages in the Province are wide, side-notched chert knives. They tend to be widest at the base and taper towards the tip into a triangular shape. There have been at least two handles found at Port au Choix that fit these knives, one of which is on display at The Rooms. Both handles are made from bone or antler and have flared protruberences near the end. The handles also have four sets of 4 incised lines. I think these handles fall into the range of the highly stylized polar bear carvings found at Port au Choix and other sites. The protruberences are the jowls of the bear as seen from above and the 4 sets of incised lines could represent 4 sets of claw marks. On one of the handles, the middle incised lines are more pronounced at the end where the bears nose would be and may have been gouged out to indicate nostrils.

I believe the whole knife is meant to represent the polar bear, which would have been a very powerful and important creature to Dorset Palaeoeskimo seal hunters.

Reproduction Dorset Palaeoeskimo Knives
(Antler, Sinew, Hide Glue and Chert)
$126.50 Tax inc

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Polar Bear in Croker Bay, Devon Island
Middle: Collection of Dorset Palaeoeskimo Polar Bear carvings on Display at The Rooms
Bottom: Elfshot Reproductions of Dorset Palaeoeskimo Knives.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I learned a lot. I love watching your photos and I also learn history.


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