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Inuit harpoon head

Inuit harpoon head
Inuit harpoon head

This bone harpoon head was made by Alaskan Inuit. It was originally attached onto a stick to form the harpoon. As soon as it hit a seal or a walrus, the head would spring loose. This way, the weight of the stick would not pry the weapon loose from the wound.

The weapon is over a hundred years old. It is a beautiful example of the way the Inuit combined artistic sense and professional skill.

That is in no way obvious. The harsh climate of the North Pole was difficult for the indigenous people. They were completely dependent on hunting and fishing for food, material for weapons or durable articles. Every piece of bone, skin or intestine was used. This also meant that the Inuit seldom made something that didn’t have a practical purpose.

Still, a form of visual art developed in which animals were an important theme. During the long and cold winter nights, there was enough time to make durable objects from bone and ivory. In doing this, the Inuit skillfully used the natural shapes of the hard materials.

This harpoon head in the shape of a bird’s head also came about that way. With only a few striking notches the maker was able to get an extremely beautiful result.

The importance of animals is also seen in the more recent and commercial Inuit art. Many Inuit gave up their traditional way of living and went to live in villages, when multinationals came to the North Pole during the last century. They filled the emptiness of their new existence by making art objects, often figurines of soapstone.

Last modified:25 September 2019 3.05 p.m.
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