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The harpoon is with barbs equipped javelin or spear , which in the hunt for fish and the whaling is used. The barbs prevent the impaled animals from sliding off the spear and getting lost.

The shape of the harpoon ranges from a simple wooden spear with one or more barbs to a steel harpoon with a shorter shaft and a long line or steel rope for hauling in the prey. The other end of the line is attached to the launcher. Small harpoons for underwater hunting ( spearfishing ) are fired from rifle-like devices, while harpoons for whale hunting are fired from cannons that are permanently mounted on ships (after the whale has been hit, an explosive charge is detonated which extends the barbs and kills the animal ).



The word harpoon was borrowed from Dutch ( harpoen ) into German in the early 17th century and probably goes back to the French harpon , which is used to denote different types of barbs in old and central French sources . It was first encountered around 1130 in the meaning of "clasp of a brooch," that is, in the jewelry trade, and since the 15th century at the latest it has been used in the meaning of " construction clip (for connecting bricks, beams, etc.)" , which is still used in building today . The literal meaning "throwing spit for fishing or whaling" is only detectable in French in 1516, in Dutch, however, as early as 1287 and more frequently in the 14th century, so it probably first appeared there and was later reverted to French . This is supported by the fact that the Netherlands rose to become Europe's leading whaling nation in the 16th and 17th centuries and the word at this time not only found its way into German (for the first time in 1604 in the form harpone ), but also into the Scandinavian languages ​​(Swedish harpun , for the first time in 1674) and in English ( harpoon , for the first time in 1625), although the encoder language in the latter case cannot be determined with certainty. Spanish arpón , Portuguese arpão and Italian arpione (also arpòne ) represent older borrowings (13th – 14th centuries) from French and have always been used in the older meaning “barbs, wall hooks”, but also took the present after 1600 dominant sense of the word "javelin".

The derivation of the French original word harpon is controversial. Obviously it forms a family of words with harper “grab, grab” and the old French harpe “claw, claw (of an animal)”, but it is unclear which tribe it is grouped around. A derivation from the Greek ἅρπη, actually “sickle”, which was also common as a foreign word in Latin ( harpe ) and in both languages ​​also “sickle sword, hooked sword” (cf. the article Harpe (weapon) ) and “falcon, bird of prey” seems obvious “(Cf. harpy as well as arpa in Middle Latin ) meant. More likely - at least according to Kluge-Sebold and Wolfgang Pfeifer - a Germanic origin, in this case it is sometimes with Icelandic harpa "pinch" to a hypothetical Proto-Germanic harppon * "grab" asked, sometimes (though neither testified) to a altwestfränkischen * harpon , "plucking," which should also form the basis of the harp .

Prehistory and early history

The oldest harpoons were found in Katanda on Semliki in the African Rift Valley in the Congo . They are sophisticated bone harpoons with an indirectly derived but still controversial age of around 90,000 years. This dating would lead to the following: Until then, it is believed that the Cro-Magnon people were the first 50,000 years later to develop a fine carving technique. But the much older group also had great manual skills. A piece of bone from the Matja Kuru 2 cave in East Timor , which was used to attach the harpoon point to the wooden shaft, is 35,000 years old . It is the oldest example of the intricate interconnection technology found throughout Australia and Melanesia .

Strictly speaking, harpoons are only those throwing or thrusting weapons whose serrated head piece detaches from the shaft after it has penetrated the animal's body and whose barbs prevent it from being released from the prey. The head piece remains connected to the shaft either by a short cord (strap) or to the hunter (fisherman) by means of a long strap. Spearguns have a transverse groove or are perforated to attach the line. If the pivot point is asymmetrical to the longitudinal axis, the harpoon is positioned more or less transversely as a result of the pull of the cord and acts like an anchor that remains in the wound even under heavy loads.

Around 15,000 years ago, the first detachable harpoon tips with barbed hooks were used in Europe and, with the spear throwers , which have been documented for at least 18,000 years and are probably much older, in their threefold structure - detachable tip with barbs, shaft and spear thrower - represent the climax of Upper Paleolithic hunting inventions. Barbed harpoons were made from antler chips or bone.

A special form is the harpoon point on throwing lances , which is restricted to Magdalenian . It is unclear whether the harpoon made of reindeer antler came loose on impact or remained connected to the shaft. Late Paleolithic ( see: Harpoon find in Tudeå ), Mesolithic and Neolithic harpoons are mainly made of deer antlers or long chips. They were used for fishing, seal hunting, and hunting land animals. A distinction is made between one, two or three-row harpoons depending on how many sides there are barbs.

The Inuit made harpoon tips from walrus teeth.

Technical advancement from antiquity to modern times

Space travel

The Philae space probe was equipped with anchoring harpoons to secure its position after landing on comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko .


In typography, the symbol ↾ is called “harpoon”. It denotes whether an exclave belongs to its territory. Two harpoons with their shafts facing each other define the relationship.

See also


  • Joachim Hahn : Recognition and determination of stone and bone artifacts. Introduction to artifact morphology (Archaeologica venatoria; Vol. 10). Institute for Prehistory, Tübingen 1993, ISBN 3-921618-31-2 , p. 345ff.
  • Emil Hoffmann: Lexicon of the Stone Age (Beck'sche series; Vol. 1325). Beck Verlag, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-42125-3 , p. 158.

Web links

Commons : Harpoons  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Harpoon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Lemma harpoen in: Marlies Philippa et al .: Etymologically Woordenboek van het Nederlands . Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2003-2009.
  2. ^ Herbert Schmid et al .: German Foreign Dictionary . 2nd edition, Volume 7 ( habilitation - hysterical ), De Gruyter, Berlin and New York 2011, sv Harpune (pp. 146–150)
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989. sv harpoon adopts an adaptation from French; Ernest Weekley : An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English . John Murray, London 1921, sv harpoon (Sp. 691-692) also considers a loan from Dutch to be possible.
  4. Academia Española (ed.): Diccionario Histórico de la Lengua Española , Volume I, Madrid 1933-1936, sv ARPON (pp. 766–767)
  5. ^ S. Wolfgang Pfeifer: Etymological Dictionary of German , 2nd edition. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1993, sv Harpune and sv Harp , as well as Friedrich Kluge and Elmar Seebold: Etymological dictionary of the German language. 25th, updated and expanded edition. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2012, sv Harpune ; Hans Sperber: German harp and his relatives . In: words and things. Kulturhistorische Zeitschrift für Sprach- und Sachforschung , Volume 3, 1909, pp. 68–77.
  6. ^ S. O'Connor, G. Robertson, KP Aplin: Are osseous artefacts a window to perishable material culture? Implications of an unusually complex bone tool from the Late Pleistocene of East Timor in Journal of Human Evolution, January 15, 2014, accessed January 23, 2014
  7. Süddeutsche Zeitung: Knowledge: 35000 DIE ZAHL , 23. January 2014 ( memento of February 2, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on January 23, 2014
  8. Oliver Douglas: IVORY, BONE, ANTLER & HORN , “Thule harpoon head, Cumberland Sound, Baffin island, Canada; 1900.65.9 ", Pitt Rivers Museum, 2002 (online PDF 2.19 MB) ( Memento from October 18, 2017 in the Internet Archive )
  9. We landed twice: Philae comet probe may have bounced after harpoon failure at cnn.com
  10. Aron, Jacob. " Problems hit Philae after historic first comet landing " New Scientist .