Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Harpoon Head

4th–5th century
United States, Alaska
Old Bering Sea
Ivory (walrus)
L. 5 15/16 in. (15.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1981
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 356
In the last two millennia before the Common Era, the peoples who established themselves along the rim of the North Pacific Ocean between Asia and America were dependent for their livelihood to a great extent on the resources of the sea. Walrus, seal, and whale were significant to subsistence, and all were hunted. On the American side, the Bering Sea Eskimo were careful to decorate the ivory and wood tools with which they hunted. The beautifully balanced and elegantly incised objects were functional tools that were incised with spirit images and designs that honored the animals the hunters sought. Harpoon heads and foreshafts, and the socket pieces known as winged objects are salient examples. Also carved of walrus ivory were human figures, most frequently female. The purpose to which the enigmatic but equally elegant figures were put is unclear. Some authorities call them dolls-originally, they may have been dressed-while others call them ceremonial objects.
Kenneth Pushkin, Albuquerque, NM, until 1981

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