Resembling the trident of the “God of the Sea”, Poseidon, this artifact is nothing short of looking fierce. Without knowing what purpose this object holds, it would be easy to mistake it for the head of a small pitchfork that had fancy prong tips, or perhaps some sort of trident. A little less impressive than a Greek God’s trident and a little more intriguing than a fancy pitchfork, this artifact is actually an eel spear.
One of our previous posts this summer, Ahoy Captain, highlighted the sextant of Peter McKay. Not only did the sea captain’s donated belongings consist of his nautical charts and instruments, but also a large tool chest filled with various tools. One such “tool” is this eel spear. When, where, and why he used this eel spear is unknown to us, but it is quite possible that this was something he picked up along his travels.
So what would possess people to want to spear eels? Like many things that vary among different cultures, what is considered a delicacy varies as well, and in many parts of the world eels were, and still are, considered something special to dine on. It’s possible that meals of eels aren’t as popular anymore, but many years ago it was not uncommon for these slimy, snake-like creatures to be prepared in many different ways. If the thought of swimming with eels sends a shiver down your spine, the thought of eating one must be just about unbearable.
Perhaps the best part about this aquatic species is that they can range in size from two inches to thirteen feet long – just the thought of an eel twice the length of a tall, full-grown man is horrifying! Eels move by causing these long, slender bodies to ripple like a wave, if they reverse the direction of the wave they can easily move backwards. Due to the absence of certain fins eels really do look similar to snakes, except for the fusion of the dorsal, anal and caudal fins which run the length of their bodies like a thin, mane of fin.
Getting back to the spear, most eel spears have some sort of notch at the end so that a long wooden pole can be attached; this one appears to have a slight curve in the metal which likely attached to a pole in some way. The extra length of a pole was needed as eels typically hang out in the muddy bottoms. A spear would be plunged into the depths of the water until it hooked onto an eel, the pointed, arrow-shaped ends then played a part in ensuring the eel wouldn’t get away before it was brought to the surface and removed. You can imagine that an eel, even a few feet long, thrashing around would put up quite a fight – the eel coming off the spear would’ve been the least of their worries.
Similar to many of our artifacts, this eel spear has a history that is so far removed from this time and culture it is hard to imagine it ever taking place. Again, it just goes to show how much has changed! And so I’ll leave you with this - blood of eels is actually toxic to humans, and if that isn’t enough to indicate that we should keep our distance than I don’t know what is…