• náhvalstönn

Narwhal Tusk

beached narwhal in Hallsteisnes   1921

The narwhal, Monodon monoceros, or the whale with one tooth and one horn, is an Arctic species of the Monodontidae family that resides in Arctic waters. The world population is very small, only about 75,000 inidividuals, and narwhals rarely wander to Iceland. The narwhal's most distinct feature is a single long tusk a canine tooth, protruding up to three metres from the front of the head. The tusk grows from the left part of the upper palate, through the lip and winds up to the left. The tooth displayed here is about 230 cm long and from an animal that was found beached in the spring of 1921 by Hallsteinsnes, Austur-Barðastrandasýslu, Iceland.

 

Narwhal tusks have been considered a valuable treasure for a long time. For a while narwhal tusks were the only valuable good exported from Greenland by the Nordic nations. They were also considered quite valuable in Iceland. Bishop Guðbrandur Þorláksson brought King Christian IV of Denmark a narwhal tusk in 1621.

 

The demand for narwhal tusks was partially for occult reasons. Narwhals are connected to the mythical unicorns from folklore that in the Middle Ages in Europe were thought to be beautiful white horses with long helical horns protruding from their forehead. Christian Europeans in the Middle Ages considered unicorns to be the symbol of holiness, honesty, chastity and innocence. A unicorn horn was considered to have great magical and healing powers. The powder from the grounded up unicorn horn was considered medicinal for various ailments, both physical and mental and was for example used to cure stomach aches, epilepsy and depression. It was also believed it could work as an antidote to poisonous fluids. It is therefore no wonder that unicorn horns were in high demand but equally hard to get and in fact completely unobtainable. The tusk from very real narwhals then came in handy as some believed they were the popular unicorn horn.

 

 

NÍ RM-11369, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History,

the Icelandic Museum of Natural History