Barbed Slate Harpoons

Posted on Sep 5, 2013 in Prince Rupert Update, What's New


(Click on the image to allow zooming).

Today’s second installment of harpoons (first installment here) includes one of the most remarkable and unique artifacts ever recovered on the Northwest Coast; at least we at Millennia think so!  This is the left-most artifact. It is a slate harpoon point; of course, slate arming points for harpoons are very common in assemblages all over the NWC, but they are usually simple flat triangular points made to slot into the business end of a toggling harpoon.  Also, large slate blades or daggers are common at some periods, such as the Locarno culture about 3,000 years ago on the Salish Sea, but  none have the deep line guard notching and sawn barb that this example from GbTo-13 has. This must have functioned as a complete harpoon point, similar to the notched line guard bone harpoons (next blog installment!), with the retreival line sinew wrapped tightly into the notching, and at least two large barbs.  The closest thing in the North Pacific seems to be Ocean Bay II period slate bayonets, which have similar sawn notch bases, and some even have tiny sawn barbs.  Although its possible for sea mammals, especially whales, to swim around for a long time and potentially carry a harpoon to a completely different part of the world, this doesn’t seem likely for this one, because Ocean Bay II is 4,000-5,000 years old and the Prince Rupert sites are at least 2,000 years more recent, and whales don’t live THAT long!

The harpoon in the field, on Cody Wesley's gloved hand!  Thank you Cody for your facebook image.

The harpoon in the field, on Cody Wesley’s gloved hand! Thank you Cody for your facebook image.

It seems most likely that this style of harpoon was a local Tsimshian specialty for a time; but perhaps only for a short while.  The remains of a second example with sawn line guard notches is shown above second from the left, and the other objects in the photo also show evidence of notching, although not as clearly as the left two.  But if this was a local type, it hasn’t been found in other archaeological sites around Prince Rupert Harbour – at least, not yet, so that is maybe why it could have been a short-lived ‘fad’ that isn’t represented at the other excavated sites.  There is so much we don’t know yet about the archaeology of the region!!

We have two more harpoon entries planned, one for line guard bone harpoons, and one for the beautifully made sea mammal bone ‘rods’.  Stay tuned!

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