Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dorset Lance Head - There, I Fixed It...

Cast of antler lance head with knapped stone side-blades
and sinew lashing
This is a slightly embellished cast of an antler lance head that I borrowed from the Canadian Museum of Civilization for the High Arctic artifact replication workshops.  The original was found in the Igloolik area in a Dorset Palaeoeskimo context.  The resin cast was very well done, including the slots for a pair of sideblades, so during a quiet afternoon in Resolute, I made a pair of sideblades to fit the slots.

Resin cast, stone sideblade, sinew 
I was careful not to scratch or damage the cast, but I was able to come up with a snug fit.  I also wrapped a few feet of twisted sinew around the open socket on the base to complete the effect.  I should emphasize that these embellishments were all temporary, reversible, done without glue, and left no permanent marks or traces on the borrowed cast.

The lance head cast and knapped side blades.  You can see the distinctive hoof shaped spur at the end and the narrowing towards the base where some sort of lashing would have been used to close the open socket on the opposite face.

The ventral surface, showing the open socket and small line holes in the spur.

The side blade sockets
were two different sizes
These would have been beautiful tools in life.  Lance heads like this are interpreted as caribou hunting points.  They are scaled up versions of harpoon heads, although it appears that a light line was attached off of the caribou hoof shaped spur rather than through a line hole in the middle of the lance head.  They would not have toggled.  The points were sometimes made of chipped stone, or self bladed as this example is.

Moureau S. Maxwell describes them like this:
The caribou lance shaft was a larger version of the one used for harpoons.  The head, usually of antler, was long and narrow with sharp edges and either self-bladed or slotted for a stone end blade.  Most were slotted for oval side blades near the proximal end.... The fact that the proximal end was perforated for a line suggest that the lance head was meant to slip from the foreshaft.  Presumably a hunter supplied with reserve heads could throw off the line to drag and, slipping a new head on the foreshaft, wound the animal again. (Maxwell 1985:138)
I really want to make a complete one of these tools.  The peculiar line holes are something that I don't quite understand and I like the idea of making a "land" harpoon. 
You can see how thin and flat the side blades need to be to fit the slots.  I started the side-blades on large flat microblades.

The side blade slot on this side was very long, but still very narrow.

I'd like to do more work like this -
 combining actual artifacts with
reproduced elements.
The addition of the sideblades changes the look and feel of the lance head substantially.  The sockets of the artifact are relatively deep and since I didn't want to force the blades into the cast, the inside edge of the flint blades are perhaps a little more shallow than the original artifacts.  The slots seem designed for a wider, more oval sideblade, which I tried to match on the exposed part of the blade.  In other words, I think that the look of the reproduction is correct when the sideblades are inserted into the lance head, but the actual blades themselves could probably have been a couple millimeters wider and more symmetrical. My sideblades are somewhat "D" shaped, while the originals for this piece were likely more "O" or football shaped in outline.

Maxwell, Moureau S.
1985 Prehistory of the Eastern Arctic. Academic Press, New York.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. Beautiful work. Is it possible though that the line holes indicate that the same heads were multi-purpose? That they may have been used to suit several species-hunting applications and that the use of a line wasn't part of the caribou procedure but intended to allow the same head to be employed with other game...? A recovery/tether line suggests ice/water applications.

    1. Interesting ideas. I suspect that the line holes may have served one or two purposes. They seem undersized for trying to hold a struggling caribou, but a trailing line may have helped with recovery of the lance head. It also seems plausible that they were there to help secure the lance head to the main lance shaft during hunting. Part of the function of harpoon lines is to securely attach the harpoon head to the foreshaft and mainshaft while the harpoon is being thrust or thrown.

      I agree that the line and general design have an ice/water feel to them. The Inuit certainly hunted caribou from kayaks in open water. Dorset evidence for kayaks is more limited, but its not impossible that they were also hunting caribou from watercraft.


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