Whalebone harpoons

Yámana (Yaghan), 19th century AD
From Tierra del Fuego

Barbed harpoons for hunting sea lions

Affixed to the end of a wooden staff, these harpoon heads would have been used to hunt sea mammals off the coast of Tierra del Fuego, a group of islands at the southern extremity of South America. These examples are large harpoons heads for hunting sea lions (Otaria sp. and Arctocephalus sp.) and dolphins.

Similar bone harpoons are known in this region from around 4000 BC, when the local people evolved a distinctive culture and tools based on the exploitation of sea mammals. They began to make multi-barbed harpoons of various styles to hunt the populations of sea lion that lived on the rocky shore. They were hunted for food and their skins used to make cloaks and to line huts. Occasional beached whales also offered a source of food and fat essential for survival in the harsh climate of the island.

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More information


C. McEwan, L.A. Borrero and A Prieto (eds), Patagonia: natural history, pr (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

S.K. Lothrop, 'The Indians of Tierra del Fuego' in Contributions from the Museum, Vol. X (New York, Heye Foundation, 1928)


Length: 35.700 cm (Holm 10)
Length: 35.700 cm (Holm 10)

Museum number

AOA Ethno Holm 10;AOA Ethno Holm 11


Gift of E.A. Holmested


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