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A prehistoric harpoon toggle carved from marine mammal ivory with linear engraving | Donald Ellis Gallery

Winged Object

Old Bering Sea II
St. Lawrence Island, Alaska

100 – 300 AD

marine mammal ivory 

width: 5 ¼"

Inventory # E4120-74



Sotheby’s, New York, NY, May 24, 1994, lot 238
Bill and Carol Wolf, NJ


Art of the Arctic: Reflections of the Unseen (Ivories), Ellis, London, Black Dog Publishing, 2015, pg. 57, pl. 42

Related Examples

The State Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow, cat. no. 132Dp-IV – See: Leskov, A.M. and Muller-Beck, H. Arktische Waljager vor 3000 Jahren: Unbekannte Sibirische Kunst. Munich: v. Hase & Koehler Verlag, 1993, pg. 116, pl. 73.

Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, Saint Petersburg, Russia, cat. no. ? – See: Aruti︠u︡nov, Sergei and Aleksandrovich, Sergeev, D. A. Problems of Ethnic History in the Bering Sea : the Ekven Cemetery. Anchorage: Shared Beringian Heritage Program, 2006, pg. 139, fig. 61, no. 17.

The toggle harpoon of the prehistoric Inuit is a marvel of engineering. At the front is an ivory point, usually fitted with a sharpened stone blade. The point is attached to a small ivory foreshaft, which allows it to pivot after striking the quarry, thus burrowing deep into the flesh of the animal. The foreshaft is fitted into a cylindrical ivory socket piece which in turn is fastened to the front of a large wooden shaft. At the rear of the shaft, an ivory counterweight or “winged object” is often attached.

Over the course of approximately 1000 years spanning several different cultural periods, the basic design of the counterweight underwent a sequential evolution of design. What began as a more simple block device in the Okvik period (200 BC – 100 AD) evolved during the Old Bering Sea III phase (300 AD – 500 AD) into a highly developed art form, as demonstrated by the beautiful example illustrated here.