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Antler Club

Tsimshian, Northern British Columbia, 18th century or earlier

Learn more about Clubs from the Northwest Coast

Antler clubs or slave killers as they are occasionally referred to, are among the most remarkable works of Northwest Coast art ever created. Produced among the Tsimshian peoples from before European contact, these impressive implements became the prized possession of Tsimshian chiefs. Made from the strong, stout antlers of elk and inland caribou, this form of club originated among Athabaskan-speaking peoples of the northern continental interior, spreading gradually to the Pacific coast through major river valleys such as the Nass and the Skeena. Small-scale versions of these clubs have been excavated from archaeological sites near Prince Rupert, on the northern coast of British Columbia, and have been dated to 100-250 AD (MacDonald 1983, pg. 112). Skillfully embellished proto-historical and historical clubs of this type are relatively rare from the coastal area, and often exhibit great age and use, being handed down through generations of hereditary chiefs. The form of these clubs follows the characteristics of the antler, utilizing a section of its length that includes appropriately positioned tines from which the features of the clubs are carved. This usually includes a snout or beak on the end of the club, a handle section at the opposite end, and a contact-point about two-thirds of the way up from the tip of the handle, where the base of a large tine forms a stout protrusion. In some examples, evidence of a once-present metal point or blade appears at the end of this contact arm, a feature that would increase the fearsomeness of an already formidable weapon.

These impressive objects most likely served at one time as war clubs, as hand to hand fighting between armed combatants was the typical style of warfare on the Northwest Coast well into the historic period. Some were said to have been employed to dispatch slaves owned by clan leaders as sacrifices, although there is no direct evidence of this. Over time and with the introduction of firearms,  hand weapons and other tools of war such as helmets became clan emblems of power and prestige.

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Category: Clubs

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Antler Club N3945

Antler Club

Northern British Columbia
19th century or earlier
Inventory # N3945

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