Curator's Choice: Marischal Museum

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The Independent Culture
My chosen piece is an Inuit kayak, made from a wooden skeleton surrounded by four sealskins, sown beautifully together to provide maximum speed and watertight conditions. The kayak contains a paddle, a harpoon, a spear and a spear-thrower for hunting seals.

The first mention of it appears in a description by the Reverend Mr Gastrell who talks of it having been taken out of the sea some 30 years previously (around 1730), with its Inuit occupant still in it. The man was taken to Aberdeen and died shortly afterwards, one presumes from exposure.

It has a mysterious quality about it because we don't know what he was doing there. Between 1680 and 1700 you get a lot of reports from the Orkneys of the arrival of what were called 'Finmen', who we now recognise as Eskimo. Why they suddenly appear at that time it's almost impossible to say. The most likely reason is that they were forced on to whaling ships returning from the Davis Strait.

In the whaling grounds the Inuit were quite useful to the Europeans as they would be familiar with quite large stretches of coastline. There was an Inuit called Nouyabik (above) who came to Aberdeen in the 1930s and he had actually been a pilot on a whaling boat. He returned home a year later and reports have it that he became the great bore of the village because he never stopped talking about his trip to Europe.

Charles Hunt is the curator of Marischal Museum, Marischal College, University of Aberdeen. Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm

(Photograph omitted)

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