Concerning the functional purpose of so-called harpoons

Serikov Yu.B. (Nizhnij Tagil, Russian Federation)


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Previous study has divided toothed bone tips into actual harpoons and serrated points, such as arrowheads, jails, darts and spears. Distinctive features of true harpoons are the means of clamping them to the shaft in the form of holes, recesses, grooves, reverse teeth or projections. There is no good evidence for the use of these so-called harpoons. According to many researchers, harpoons were used for hunting of big fish and aquatic animals such as beaver and otter. But ethnographic studies of Siberian peoples indicate that they hunted beaver and otter using traps, toils, bows and crossbows. The ethnographic data also indicates the continuation of ancient methods of catching fish such as stabbing with a spear and bow shutting. Some details of harpoon design raise many questions. Elongated nozzles, shallow recesses, low projections, insufficient diameter of the holes on the stems are all features which do not appear to correspond to a true harpoon. Archaeological assemblages include harpoons with stems wrapped in birch bark and coated with resin. This clearly indicates that these harpoons were permanently attached to the shaft. A study 30 years ago in the construction of harpoons concentrated attention on the neck the lower part of the head between the lower tooth and the reverse tooth, projection or recesses. This neck feature is strong and is practically always present on serrated tips, which have traditionally been considered to be harpoons. Experiments with clamping these so-called harpoons showed that the neck section could be used for a tight attachment to the shaft. End availability opposite the tooth, projection, hole or recess helped with the attachment. So, these tools could have served as jail heads. Only serrated points with a hole or expressed opposite tooth could operate as true harpoons. Thus, we see that the role of harpoons in the economy of ancient populations has been greatly overestimated.

Key words: harpoon, jail, head of arrow, functional purpose, ethnographic data, experiment, the forest zone of Eastern Europe, Ural and Siberia.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2019-44-1-054-063


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Article is published 2.04.2019 .


Yu.B. Serikov

Russian State Professionally Pedagogical University, (Nizhniy Tagil Branch), Krasnogvardeyskaya st., 57. Nizhnij Tagil, 622031, Russian Federation