As we learned in the last blog post, sea mammals are the most important resource for Iñupiaq peoples, as they provide the basic materials for food, shelter, and tools. The Iñupiaq utilized a special tool to better hunt sea mammals called a Toggle Harpoon. In our newest shelter investigation, a North Slope Ivrulik, students learn how a toggle harpoon works and create a replica harpoon!
Hunting a sea creature from a boat presents many challenges, not the least of which is the movement of the waves and boat! There is also a potential for escape of the animal before the hunter could retrieve his prey, the possibility that the weapon might just wound the animal instead of killing it, and the chance the animal would sink before the hunter could reel it in. The Iñupiaq used a unique weapon that removed many of these challenges.
A toggle harpoon is a multi-component weapon. At the end of the harpoon, was a bone, ivory, stone, or (later) a metal tip, as to better pierce the thick hide of the animal. After the hunter hit the sea mammal, the harpoon head then detached from the harpoon, and toggled, or turned under the animal’s skin so it wouldn’t slide out. The harpoon head was attached to the harpoon by a 3 foot line and the harpoon was attached to the boat by another 45 foot line. This was to insure that the hunter would be able to follow the animal until it got tired enough so the hunter could kill it. Also attached to the line was a balloon made of sealskin. This made it difficult for the sea mammal to dive, so it had to stay near the surface where the boat could follow.
Our newest shelter investigation, a North Slope Ivrulik, instructs students in how to make a replica toggle harpoon, and helps them understand how this multi-component weapon was important in the daily lives of Iñupiaq people.
Follow the pattern to cut the harpoon head shape from a piece of cardboard (Toggle Harpoon Pattern). Fold and tape it as the illustration shows to make it three-dimensional. Take another piece of cardboard and cut a hole in it that is just wide enough to let the harpoon head through, lengthwise. This represents the body of a seal.
Tie the string through the hole in the harpoon head. Now push the harpoon head through the hole in the cardboard seal. Let it go all the way through. Then pull on the string. What happens? Can you see how this invention allowed the hunter to keep his prey, even if it swam away?
Harpoon head is 8.25 inches long, 1.5 inches wide at its widest, and 1 inch deep. The pattern is made of four pieces:
- The animal’s body, a square or round piece of cardboard with a 1.5 inches diameter hole.
- Two identical pieces representing the sides of the harpoon head, roughly triangular in shape, slightly curved on the long (hypotenuse) side, the next longest side being 5.5 inches long, and the toggle end being 3 inches long. There is a hole in the 5.5 inch side, 4.75 inches from the pointed end. This hole is positioned closer to the two short sides of the triangle than the hypotenuse.
- A cross lance-shaped piece that gives the harpoon head depth. There is a dotted line 5.5 inches from the point to indicate that the piece needs to be folded there.
Cut out the pieces. Using a hole punch, punch holes in both of the identical pieces (the sides of the harpoon head). Tape the three pieces of the harpoon head together. Thread the string through the two holes. (See Photos 1 and 2)
Harpoon head goes into “animal.” Note the hole in the cardboard that represents the wound in the animal.
Once inside the animal, the toggle causes the harpoon head to swivel, anchoring it in place.
The view of the anchored harpoon head from outside the “animal.”
Get the full lesson, including an analyzing the data worksheet, when you download Project Archaeology: Investigating a North Slope Ivrulik