M278 | Carving

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Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Arctic
Inuit: Nunavimiut
1865-1900, 19th century
Ivory, pigment
3.6 x 18 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Carving (301)
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Keys to History

This ivory carving of the small, tusked whale called the narwhal has been stained with pigment to resemble the mottled skin of the actual animal. Traditionally, the Inuit hunted narwhals for meat, blubber, sinew and ivory, although never as extensively as they hunted seal and walrus. These days, narwhal are rarely seen near Nunavik because their numbers continue to dwindle.

The narwhal is the only whale with a tusk. The tusk, which grows in a spiral pattern, is actually a tooth that grows as long as 2.5 metres. Early European explorers sometimes took home narwhal tusks claiming that they were from unicorns. An Inuit legend tells the story of the first narwhal. A blind hunter named Lumaaq tied his wicked stepmother to his harpoon, in place of a float, and threw the harpoon at a beluga. The woman was dragged into the sea by the beluga where she transformed into a narwhaler long braid, which had wrapped around the harpoon, became the narwhal's tusk.

  • What

    This is an ivory carving of a narwhal, probably made from walrus tusk.

  • Where

    This carving comes from the Ungava Bay area of Nunavik. By the early 20th century narwhal were quite rare in the area.

  • When

    This carving was probably made between 1865 and 1900.

  • Who

    The artist who carved this narwhal is unknown. It is likely that he traded it to or gave it as a gift to a European or American whaler or explorer.