Winged Object
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Winged Object
This winged object from the butt end of a harpoon probably depicts a tunghak spirit controller. Drilled holes may have contained black plugs and seal hair; the groove is for insertion of a throwing board hook. Visual puns in the form of hidden animals are a characteristic feature of Eskimo art.

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Old Bering Sea Harpoon


The weight of the ivory harpoon head, foreshaft, and socketpiece was counterbalanced by an ivory "winged object". Winged objects went out of style in Alaska about A.D. 1000, but comparable forms were retained in Greenland into historic times.

In North Pacific cultures the linkage between subsistence practices and religious ideology is particularly strong and is manifested in communal hunting ceremonies, magical and ritual practices associated with hunting, and in the artistry of hunting implements. Magic and artistry are particularly evident in sea mammal hunting technology. All North Pacific groups believed that hunting success was determined by the willingness of the animal spirits to make themselves available to the hunter, rather than by luck or hunting prowess. Clean and new clothing, the magic power of amulets and plaques, and the beauty of carefully crafted hunting weapons all served to please and attract the spirits of game animals. After the hunt, elaborate rituals were performed to return the spirit of the animal to its kindred.

zoomorphic images of master spirits  carved onto winged tailpieces of harpoonsEskimo weapons were sometimes given additional power by being ornamented with the images of predatory animals or beasts, which served the hunter as helping spirits. Early Bering Sea Eskimo harpoons were equipped with winged object tailpieces carved with complex zoomorphic images in the form of master controlling spirits known as Tunghat. Tunghat lived in the moon, were part animal and part human, were ferocious and powerful, and if displeased could punish man by withholding animals from him. One of the many roles of a shaman was to intercede with Tunghat on man's behalf.

In short, the serious sea mammal hunter's equipment was elegantly designed and beautifully maintained as a sign of respect to his prey. These values, as much as functional design, were fundamental to a hunter's success. These practices had ancient origins and are especially noted in the hunting technology and art of Old Bering Sea culture.

- William W. Fitzhugh, ed. J. Prusinski

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