Monday, June 1, 2009

Groswater Palaeoeskimo Harpoon Heads

One of the more unusual artifacts found in Newfoundland and Labrador are Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblades and harpoon heads. The endblades are unusual because they are flat on one side and the harpoon heads are odd because they have little shelves built into them that the endblades sit on.

Groswater Palaeoeskimo artifacts are found throughout the Province and date from 2800 - 1750 years ago. The people who made them lived in the region during a period of climate instability and have been described as "generalists". They kept their options open and tended to live in small, mobile groups that could exploit a variety of marine and land resources, without narrowly focusing on a single species. They were an Arctic adapted people whose ancestors moved south into the area from the Eastern Arctic.

Projectile points are almost universally lens-shaped in cross section, with thin bases designed to be hafted into a split shaft, usually of wood. The Groswater endblades break both those rules. They are not lens-shaped in cross section, they are plano-convex -- they are flat on one side and have a "D" shaped cross section. They have square, box-bases that are deliberately thick to sit on a shelf, rather than thinned to fit in a slot. The endblades are often made from colourful, fine grained chert and are sometimes ground, which is another unusual characteristic for chipped stone tools. The grinding would have helped thin the pieces and would have removed surface irregularities that helped the knappers produce very regular and fine pressure flaking patterns. They all have at least one set of side notches, sometimes more, to secure them to the harpoon head. The Palaeoeskimo would have most likely used sinew thread to tie the endblades in place.

Its an odd design, that makes sense when you see the elaborate harpoon heads that they were designed to fit. One of these harpoon heads was found at Port au Choix in 1986. I'm not sure how many other harpoon heads of this style have been found, the Port au Choix one is the only one that I'm familiar with. It has a shelf cut on its tip to accept the endblade and hole gouged through its nose to tie the endblade on. (We did find a Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblade at Bird Cove, but it was self-bladed - it didn't need a separate stone endblade.) The original Port au Choix artifact is missing much of its base, but from other specimens we know that the Groswater harpoon heads had open sockets. The slot for the harpoon foreshaft was carved into the harpoon head through the side rather than up from the base. Several of their harpoon heads have an incised line around the socket, suggesting that they may have partially tried to close the socket by wrapping sinew across the gap.
Groswater Palaeoeskimo Endbladed Harpoon Heads (Chert, antler, sinew, hide glue) The white one is natural and the brown one has been tea stained.
$124.30 (CDN, tax inc.)

Photo Credits:
Top, Tim Rast
Middle, Parks Canada
Bottom, Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top and Bottom, Recently made reproductions of Groswater Palaeoeskimo Harpoon Heads.
Middle, Archaeological illustration showing the Port au Choix harpoon head and associated endblade.


  1. Hi Tim,

    I recently visited a home near the northern tip of Conception Bay North. Someone in the family had recently picked up an arrowhead. I was intrigued as I examined it, especially by the fact that it was flat on one side. Now in perusing your blog I cam across this post about Groswater Palaeoeskimo harpoon endblades and wonder if it might be one? Do you know if this unique shape showed up in other cultures in Newfoundland (e.g. the Beothuk). I'm not sure if there is a known history of the Groswater Palaeoeskino in that area but should look into it.

    Any thoughts??

    Jared Clarke

    1. Hi Jared - It could be Groswater Palaeoeskimo - especially if it was side-notched. The Dorset Palaeoeskimo also made endblades that could be flat on one side - either because they were unifacially worked or because they had been tip-fluted. However, the Dorset examples would be triangular and un-notched. Other folks might have made points that were flat on one side, but they would have been unusual. If you happen to have a photo, I'd be happy to take a look and let you know what I think. The Groswater could definitely have been in the area.


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