Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Building the Wapusk Harpoon

I have an Open Minds flintknapping demonstration this afternoon with a grade six class at The Rooms and then one final check with the artifacts for Wapusk National Park. Everything is built for the Wapusk order, I just want to check the pieces against the artifacts one last time before I do the final assembly and ship them.

The Wapusk harpoon is based on pre-Dorset artifacts found at the Seahorse Gully site, near the park. There were a couple of ivory harpoon heads found at Seahorse Gully, so I worked off of those pieces to determine the harpoon material and style of the base and line hole, although the one complete harpoon head was self-bladed. A self-bladed harpoon is one that is made in one piece, without an additional stone endblade inserted into the end. Fortunately, there are other pre-Dorset sites with versions of this harpoon head designed to take endblades, so I used those sources to fill in the blanks.

One of the other references that I looked at showed an antler foreshaft that would work with this style of harpoon head and it had a fairly large hole gouged in it. This isn't uncommon for Palaeoeskimo foreshafts, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to experiment with that design. The function of the hole is probably to attach the foreshaft to the harpoon somehow so that it isn't lost while the hunter is pre-occupied with dragging the harpooned seal out of the water. A short thread might run from the hole in the foreshaft to the end of the mainshaft to tie everything in place. However, the hole in the artifact I'm using as a reference seemed to be quite large, similar in size to the line hole in the harpoon, so I'm considering running the harpoon line through the hole to see how that might work.  But then again maybe not.  These holes tend to be off to one side of the foreshaft, so maybe that's a clue that they were positioned away from the path of the harpoon line to avoid entanglement.  Its times like this that making just one reproduction doesn't seem like enough.

I'll do another post on this harpoon when its all finished and assembled. I'm learning some interesting things about the harpoon heads that were used in this Province after this opportunity to examine their predecessors from other parts of Canada's North. I'm reversing some ideas that I had about Groswater harpoon heads after seeing how this style of harpoon would have fit together.

Photo Credits:
1,3,4: Tim Rast
2: From: Pre-Dorset Settlements at the Seahorse Gully Site by David Meyer

Photo Captions:
1: Exploded view of the endblade, harpoon head, and foreshaft of the harpoon for Wapusk National Park
2: Reference drawings of the complete, self-bladed harpoon head found at Seahorse Gully
3: The ivory harpoon head and antler foreshaft
4: Side view of the open socket harpoon head and foreshaft.


  1. "I'm reversing some ideas that I had about Groswater harpoon heads after seeing how this style of harpoon would have fit together."

    Oooh, sounds interesting! Does this have anything to do with how the line attaches to the harpoon head? From your gelatin experiments i recall that you had said that the protruding knot was a hindrance - is this what you have figured out?

  2. Kind of - it'll be easier to explain with photos, but I'll try it here. The line holes on Groswater harpoon heads are made by gouging holes from opposite sides of the harpoon head. On the dorsal surface the gouged slot is oriented up and down the length of the harpoon head (like the first view in the drawing above). On the ventral surface (with the open socket) the gouge cuts across the harpoon head from side to side and is often enlarged to form a kind of square hole (its round in the pre-Dorset artifact above). I thought the knot from the harpoon line would sit in that enlarged hole and the groove on the dorsal surface would help guide the line down the back of the harpoon head. Which isn't a problem on the Groswater harpoon heads, but on the pre-Dorset design it wouldn't work.

    If you put the line through the hole so that the knot sits in the round hole on the ventral surface, then the harpoon line blocks the barbs on the dorsal surface. You've effectively locked the harpoon head on the foreshaft - the line must have been threaded through in the opposite direction, with the knot sitting in the linear groove on the dorsal surface.

    Maybe there is something about the shape of that linear groove that would help understand how a knot could be strong enough to secure the line to the harpoon head.

    I'll explain that again with pictures in a future post.


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