Archive for April 4th, 2008

3000 year old scrimshaw

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Archaeologists in the Russian Arctic have uncovered a whale harpooning scene carved in walrus ivory which pushes the date of human whale hunting back a thousand years.

Whale remains found at a 3,000-year-old site in northwestern Alaska called Old Whaling, for instance, were once considered evidence of early hunting. But a re-examination of the site in recent years has suggested that people there were simply scavenging dead whales that had washed ashore. There are some dramatic rock carvings in southeastern Korea that show bands of hunters going after whales. But these are nearly impossible to pin down with an exact date, says Odess. In contrast, the newfound ivory carving was pegged as being 3,000 years old by nearly a dozen radiocarbon dates on the soil in which it was embedded. The previous eldest solid evidence for whaling is some 2,000 years old.

The carved scenes show hunters in traditional inuit boats with harpoons and whales.

The ivory itself was not dated, however, because it would require chipping off bits of the ivory. It’s the earth layer from which it was excavated which provided the date.

Russian conservators will make the decision on whether to date the ivory directly.

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