Most of our contemporaries believe that the harpoon is something like a spear for catching fish. Most often it is confused with a prison. This is understandable: for hunting and fishing "for fun" the classic harpoon is almost not used, but for indigenous peoples of the North who live in traditional crafts, this tool is still in honor. "Civilized" Europeans and Americans now use a harpoon gun, and it has little in common with an ancient weapon: this rather complex instrument has undergone significant changes over many centuries of its existence. Of particular interest was, of course, the whaling harp, described in detail by Herman Melville, but there were others that differed in design and purpose. Let us try to distinguish their common features.
The meaning of the word "harpoon"
The compilers of the explanatory dictionaries agree that this term (harpoen) owes its appearance to Dutch whalers, who in the 17th century did not know themselves equal. The word came from the late Latina harpo ("hook"). However, there is evidence that the concept originated even earlier - in the Basques, the people living in the territory of modern Spain. In translation from the Basque language, "harpoon" is a "stone point". In Russia, the harpoon was called kutilom or spokes.
Design. Harpoon and jail
The simplest device is the harpoon for fishing. This harpoon is just a jagged javelin. In some cases, it has a ring for tying to the boat. Harpoon is sometimes called a jail (and vice versa), but in fact a jail is a completely different tool. It has several long teeth and is not intended for throwing. The hunter beats her fish, not letting the shaft out of his hand. A harpoon for hunting aquatic animals (seals, walruses) is a throwing cannon, which consists of a shaft (usually wooden), a tip (can be bone, stone, metal) and the ropes that connect them. In the context of the scarcity of materials and tools, it is not easy for a hunter to make such a harpoon. The photo clearly demonstrates what a complex construction this device can have.
The tip, as a rule, flat and serrated, is inserted into the shaft, but it is not connected with it tightly. After the hunter made a throw, the shaft separates from the tip that entered the body of the victim. Far not always the animal manages to kill with one throw. The wounded beast tries to hide, the rope stretches, and the shaft that floats on the water surface indicates to the hunter the direction of its movement. The victim can not get rid of the point that has settled in the body: this is impeded by lateral teeth.
Harpoon in different nations
Harpoon is an international weapon. People have learned to carve them back in the Paleolithic era (the early Stone Age). They were made from bone (northerners - from walrus and mammoth) and horns, more often deer. The Eskimos, Aleuts, Chukchi and Koryak were made from flint, bronze, native copper and iron. However, the people of Alaska did not disdain and whole wooden harpoons. Some African tribes use a harpoon (with an iron point) to hunt for hippos. On the Andaman Islands they are killed by wild boars. In the caves of mainland Europe (at a considerable distance from the sea) bone tips from complex harpoons were found, which were obviously used to catch large fish and hunt for forest (not aquatic!) Animals. The bone tips of the Neolithic Age are found in Russia. Harpoons were hunted in summer and in winter, from a boat, near an ice-hole or just in the water. Since ancient times, harpoons have been used by Indonesians to extract whales, dolphins and sharks. Their design did not provide for the separation of the tip, the harpoon simply tied to the boat with a long line. It should be noted that the Indonesians do not throw the harpoon in the whale, but, without releasing the shaft from the hand, jump on its back and prick it like a conventional spear.
Harpoon is an ancient whaling tool
The forms of harpoons were very diverse. A classic European or American whaling tool has an iron pole and a wide short blade. Most often, these harpoons have wooden handles, for which they attach themselves to the boat with a very long rope. In the 19th century (and earlier), whales were pursued on small rowing boats (whaleboats). Approaching a distance of 6 meters, harpooner metal in the whale is his weapon (more often - two). At the throw the point was not separated from the shaft. Lin, tied to the harpoon, quickly unwound, and the whale with great speed dragged the boat along the waves until it was exhausted. Then the whale was killed, but not by a harpoon, but by a spear, and it was not done by the harpooner, but by the captain of the whaleboat. Nevertheless, a good harpooner enjoyed great respect.
To the northern hunters, whales still find themselves, in whose body are found the twisted instruments of the 19th century. Below is one such harpoon. The photo, even so laconic, indicates that the whale was more than a dangerous enemy.
The Norwegians even had a law according to which a man containing a family could not be a harpooner.
Evolution of the tool
In the second half of the 19th century a harpoon of a whaler was replaced by a harpoon cannon, invented by the Norwegian engineer Foyn. She made hunting for whales safer and much more unsightly. The ordinary harpoon evolved into an underwater rifle. But these devices have retained the main elements of their "ancestor": a sharp tip with teeth pointed back, and a cable that does not allow the hunter to miss the prey.
Indigenous peoples of the North continue to use the same tools as their forefathers. Harpoon is a universal fishing tool. Despite the fact that the inhabitants of Alaska or Chukotka have access to firearms, they are not going to abandon the proven hunting methods and means.