Pacific Inuit: Fish Hook
North America, Arctic Coast
Materials: Wood, Iron
This object is a Pacific Inuit halibut hook made primarily of wood with a barb made of iron. The pieces of this hook are bound together with thin string and part of the line is still attached. The hook measures approximately eleven inches long and has finger-like carvings on the side with the line attached to it. This type of hook was used only by the Pacific Inuit tribes Koniagmiut and Chugach living in the western Alaskan coastal regions. The fish that this type of hook was used to catch can range from two pounds in weight to 450 lbs, but the average size is around 20-30 lbs. Halibut is the largest of the flat fish and is very challenging to catch. Halibut has been a staple for many Alaskan native people for thousands of years and is still commonly caught for food. Halibut is also very popular around the world and populations have drastically decreased as a result of overfishing. Because of this Halibut has been considered for placement on the Endangered Species list.
Fish hooks of this kind have been found in the Pacific-Aleut Culture Area encompassing the Aleutian Islands and Southern Alaska as far back as 1000 B.C. all the way to modern times. The Pacific Aleut culture is a subtradition of the Eskimo tradition and displayed gradually increasing divergence caused by environmental and regional differences. As the two groups separated geographically the differences between the two cultures increased as did the language differences. Their material culture also reflected the divergence. Because the Pacific Aleut settled in the southerly regions there was more tree growth and access to wood was far greater than in the arctic regions. During the late prehistoric period and into the historic period the Eskimo culture group was heavily influenced by the tribes of the Northwest Coast. Many of their material culture styles carried over including ground-slate weapons and tools, stone effigy carvings, and the use of labret piercings to delineate gender and status. The Chaluka midden archaeological site, dating around 1000 B.C., on the Aleutian Islands demonstrates the transition of PreEskimo culture to Eskimo tradition and the Kachemak Bay I site on mainland Alaska, dating around 750 B.C., demonstrates the emergence of the Pacific Aleut subtradition out of the Eskimo tradition. This site includes rectangular semi-subterrainian houses built up with stone, whale bone, or wood with central fireplaces dating from the late phases.
A predecessor of this fish hook would have been used in the late phases around A.D. 1700 and later. During this time the Pacific Aleut culture group was focused mainly on sea hunting and fishing, but also procured food from land hunting and gathering. The most used hunting gear included stone and bone projectile points and knives, bone toggle harpoons, and the barbed bone dart with a slate blade and a tang hole for attaching the line. Bone and wood composite hooks like this one with perforated stone sinkers were also commonly found. Woodworking was very commonly practiced in the Pacific Aleut culture group and many woodworking tools have been found. Compared to the Eskimo culture group, the Pacific Aleut had a heavy emphasis on woodworking skills. The Eskimo group had more of an emphasis on bone and ivory carving during this time that is still projected today.