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Harpoon tips

  • Artist's impression of how harpoon tips were used

    Artist's impression of how harpoon tips were used

  • Diagram of harpoon tip in flesh

    Diagram of harpoon tip in flesh

 

Length: 15.500 cm
Length: 15.500 cm
Length: 15.500 cm
Length: 15.500 cm
Length: 15.500 cm

Purchased from Vicomte de Lastic St Jal

P&EE 1864.12-26.1, 5, 16, 105, 809

Prehistory and Europe

    Harpoon tips

    Late Magdalenian, about 12,500 years old
    From the cave of Courbet, Penne-Tarn, France

    Points made of antler with barbs on one side or both sides

    When a true harpoon is thrown at a fish or animal, the tip separates from the shaft as it enters the wound. The line pulls on the point making it catch in the flesh. This prevents it from falling out and increases blood loss. The wooden harpoon shaft remains attached to the tip by a line and slows down the escape of the injured creature so that the hunter can catch up with it.

    Harpoons are first seen in the archaeological record nearly seventeen thousand years ago at the beginning of the phase known as the Magdalenian, which lasted until about 11,000 years ago. These examples from Courbet show that unlike spear tips, harpoons are barbed and modified at the base with small lugs, notches or shoulders to attach the line. Some are also decorated. The variety of harpoon types from this single site suggest that their size and shape was determined by the fish or animal that they were made to kill. They show that hunting weapons (which also included spears and fishhooks) had become both varied and specialised by this time. Some barbed points may also have been used as fixed spear tips.

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    Rare prints by the French artist, £9.99

    Rare prints by the French artist, £9.99