Iñupiaq or Yup’ik
- Collected late 1930s
- Wood, seal claws, and twine
- 3 3/4 × approx. 9 in.
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Gift of the Estate of Corey Ford, Class of 1921H; 169.75.24830visibilityLook & Discuss
This tool was made to aid a seal hunter.
explore the object
Seals are mammals that need to come out of the water to breathe. This ice scratcher mimics the sound a seal makes when creating a breathing hole in the ice. When a hunter needed to approach a group of sunning seals, he would lie on the ice and hide behind a polar bear mitten or a white sealskin blind. To cover the noise of his approach as he crawled forward, he would scratch the surface of the ice with this tool. The soothing noise allowed him to get close enough to strike.
Arctic hunters traditionally made tools like this from driftwood or bone, sinew, and seal claws. This ice scratcher uses twine, a trade material, in place of sinew.
You can follow a hunter on a winter seal hunt through this series of sculptures and related tools in the Hood Museum of Art’s collection.
An Inuit hunter counts the toes on his right food, a custom to guess if he will capture a seal. What can you tell about the importance of the outcome of this game by looking carefully at the figure’s expression?
A hunter stands poised above a breathing hole in the ice. As mammals, seals need to come up out of the water for air. When a seal emerges, the hunter must act quickly to harpoon the seal before it swims away.
A successful hunter leans back on the ice and pulls on a line attached to a seal he has caught through a breathing hole. How can you tell the seal is quite heavy?
A hunter lifts a seal out of the water. Success! Images of hunting from the Arctic reflect the close relationship between people and animals. This hunter may be thanking the animal for allowing itself to be caught so that he can feed his family.
In order to tow a freshly killed seal over the snow, a hunter would use a tool known as a seal drag. The line of the seal drag connected the hunter to the animal both literally and spiritually. The ivory handle was carved in the form of a seal to honor the seal and thank it for its sacrifice.
Sometimes seals rest on the surface of the ice and snow and bask in the sun. All of the Inuit sculptors whose work is represented in this resource were also hunters. The ability to provide for their families relied on careful observation and an intimate understanding of the animals they pursued. As a result, their sculptures wonderfully capture the personality and unique qualities of each animal.
In this sculpture, a hunter sneaks up on a seal resting on the ice. Sometimes hunters hid behind large white sealskin or polar bear skin mittens for camouflage.
You can also explore aspects of traditional seal hunting through the Hood’s collection of models. Adult men made models for young boys to encourage them to practice the skills they would need one day as hunters, and also for outsiders interested in the lives of Arctic people.
This model kayak was created for trade by a Kalaallit artist from Greenland. It recreates, with astonishing detail, some of the equipment necessary for a seal hunt.
He wears a furless, sealskin parka, and carries with him all the tools he will need for seal hunting, including: 1 double-ended paddle tipped with bone, 1 lance with steel tip, 1 bird spear with steel tip and bone prongs, 2 harpoons with bone tips (one with throwing board), 1 lance with bone tip, 1 seal bladder, 1 bone knife, and a line coiler or line rack.
A seal bladder is an organ taken from a seal, washed and dried, filled with air, and attached to a harpoon line. When a swimming seal is harpooned, the bladder on the rope drags in the water, tiring the seal and helping the hunter locate and capture it.
Since the nineteenth century, indigenous hunters have used guns for seal hunting. In this model, a Kalaallit hunter props his gun on a stand behind a blind, a piece of white fabric that would blend with the snow, in order to get close enough to shoot the seal.
In this video, Museum Specialist Dawn Biddeson describes tools used for hunting in the Hood Museum of Art's collection.