Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Harpoon and Knife

Dorset Harpoon and Knife
This pair of Palaeoeskimo reproductions is heading to the Labrador Interpretation Centre in Northwest River.  If the knife looks familiar, its because I've made several of them in the past few weeks and showed how I knap the blade and assemble them in the post called Knapping a Dorset Palaeoeskimo Knife; A Photo Essay.  The harpoon is actually one that I made several years ago, but it had lost some parts and needed a bit of updating based on new details that I've learned since I initially assembled it.

Middle Dorset Harpoon Reproduction
This is the first Dorset harpoon that I've worked on since seeing the Groswater Palaeoeskimo harpoon shaft from L'Anse aux Meadows last spring and I decided to base the general dimensions of the spruce mainshaft for this harpoon on the L'Anse Aux Meadows mainshaft made from tamarack.   I've been using main shafts with hexagonal or octagonal cross sections on Dorset harpoons for a few years now which are based on Palaeoeskimo harpoon fragments found in the Eastern Arctic.  They are more or less contemporaneous with the Middle Dorset occupation of Newfoundland and Labrador, but come from more than a thousand kilometres away, so they are a temporal, but not geographic match.  The Groswater mainshaft from L'Anse aux Meadows comes from the same area, but dates to a thousand years earlier, so its a geographic, but not temporal match.

Middle Dorset Palaeoeskimo Harpoon reproduction.  Spruce mainshaft, bone foreshaft, antler harpoon head, chert endblade, braided sinew and sealskin line and lashings

Harpoon Detail
I'm happy with the look of the L'Anse aux Meadows inspired shaft on this harpoon.  I like how lean the wood is - only 2.5 cm square, by about 120 cm long.  I kept the bark tanned sealskin harpoon line, but swapped out the old bark tanned lashing on the mainshaft and used the air cured hooded seal skin that I prepared last spring.  Originally the harpoon head was attached to the sealskin line with an artificial sinew braided lanyard, but I gave it a new one made from real sinew.  I feel that the length and square cross section of the mainshaft work well and I liked having a good reference from the Province for the design of the foreshaft socket and the placement of the line attachment.  I didn't scarf a bone icepick on to the end, because it was outside the budget of this particular piece.
Harpoons; Dorset (L), Groswater (R)
I used spruce for the mainshaft rather than tamarack because I was modifying the old Christmas tree mainshaft that I'd originally used on the harpoon.  Its much lighter than a comparable-sized tamarack shaft.  I didn't weigh it, so I can't say exactly how much lighter, but the difference is noticeable.  In the side by side photo on the right, you can see that my Groswater harpoon has been taking on some annoying twists and turns since I took it to Calgary.  The humidity and elevation caused some warping in the wood and antler that I haven't fixed yet.  I don't think the foreshaft will ever go straight again and I will need to replace it all aligned again.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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