Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Middle Dorset Harpoon Reproduction (mostly..)

Dorset Harpoon
Its been kind of a hectic week.  I shipped this harpoon and the atlatl from last Friday's post off to Mount Royal University in Calgary today and I'm still plugging away on the Cape Krusenstern reproductions.  Mild panic is starting to set in from the rapidly approaching field season and somehow I got sucked into the middle of the controversy surrounding the Parks Canada Archaeology cuts.

Krusenstern, still working
Since I first posted my concerns about what is happening to archaeology at Parks Canada 10 days ago, I've had a couple thousand extra people visit the blog to read the posts on the topic and that interest turned into two local radio interviews, one national radio interview and a print interview with the Toronto Star.   I'll continue to make updates to the blog post called Updated: Summary of Archaeology Cuts to Parks Canada Agency, but that's enough of that for now - I don't want being an amateur curmudgeon to take over this blog.

chert tip-fluted endblade on harpoon
The harpoon that I sent to Calgary is a Middle Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon based on artifacts from Newfoundland and Labrador.  The harpoon head and foreshaft are based on artifacts collected over the past several decades by Memorial University researchers working at the National Historic Site at Port au Choix.  I've mentioned Port au Choix pretty much weekly every since I started this blog - here's a link to a big order that I prepared for the site last spring for interpreters to use in hands-on programming.  Port au Choix is one of the National Historic Sites that is losing its interpretive staff as part of the Parks Canada cuts coming out of the current federal budget, so who knows if you'll actually see a person holding these things if you visit the site after Bill C-38 passes.  Sorry, I promised I would try to avoid that topic, but its all connected.

Middle Dorset Harpoon Reproduction; spruce main shaft, sealskin lashings and line, braided sinew lanyard, antler foreshaft and harpoon head, chert endblade.

Foreshaft & Harpoon Head
Ok.  The harpoon head is made from antler and I used antler for the short foreshaft as well.  This is a Dorset style harpoon and there are fragments of  harpoon shafts from Dorset sites in the Arctic, but based on the geographic, if not temporal proximity, I used the tamarack Groswater Palaeoeskimo harpoon shaft from L'Anse Aux Meadows as my primary reference for the main shaft.  The original artifact and the reproduction that I made of it are on display in the new exhibits dedicated to the aboriginal story of L'Anse aux Meadows - a National Historic Site excavated by independent researchers, Memorial University archaeologists, and Parks Canada archaeologists over the past 50 years.  The particular artifact that I based this main shaft on came out of the Parks Canada excavations at the site in the 1970s.  Up until this exhibit, it was stored in an archaeological laboratory in Dartmouth along with the other artifacts from the site not on display in the interpretation centre in Newfoundland.  Parks Canada is 3 years into a 20 year lease on this building and it is one of the service centres being shut down because of the budget cuts.  Everything that was stored in it is being relocated to Ottawa along with millions of other artifacts and historic objects from similar labs located in Calgary, Winnipeg, Cornwall, and Quebec.  Dammit, I did it again. Forget it. I need a beer.

Adam, I promise I'm still working on these.  These are Cape Krusenstern reproductions in progress - a knife handle, a nephrite adze fragment and a barbed point found in two pieces.  For scale, the barbed point is about the size of a ballpoint pen.  Its pretty much ready to break in half to match the original artifacts.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. Out of curiosity, how do you know the length of the main shaft? Have any been found?

  2. That's a good question. Sections of harpoon shafts show up, but they are often incomplete broken or scarfed sections. The most complete Palaeoeskimo harpoon shaft that I've seen myself is the 121 cm long harpoon shaft found in the bog at L'Anse aux Meadows:

    It also has a scarf join at the base, which I've interpreted as a lashing area for an ice pick, suggesting that the finished main shaft, complete with pick, should be in the 130-140 cm range. The notion that the Palaeoeskimo were using 120-140 cm long main shaft is compatible with Inuit sealing harpoons that I've seen in use today.

    Still, I can't be sure that the scarf at the end of the L'Anse aux Meadows harpoon was for an ice-pick - its not impossible that another section of shaft was lashed to it. When Shanawdithit drew the sealing harpoon used by the Beothuk, she said the whole thing was 12 feet long. Its a different time period and a different culture, but there do seem to be some analogs between Beothuk harpoon heads and Dorset harpoon heads from Newfoundland. I really want to make a Beothuk Harpoon someday, but I don't where I'd keep it.

  3. You might know, but have any larger harpoon points been found? I assume walrus harpoon heads but anything as large as a Thule whale harpoon point? From what I've read, the Dorset limit was beluga or narwhale.


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