Tse-whit-zen whale

Tse-whit-zen whale sculpture.  Source: Peninsula News, Port Angeles.

Whale sculpture from the Tse-whit-zen archaeological site, Port Angeles. Source: Peninsula News.

The Tse-whit-zen site is a former Klallam Tribe village that was discovered by the construction of a graving dock at Port Angeles, Washington State.  The subsequent disturbance and archaeological project led to an astonishing series of events with over 300 human burials recovered, many more disturbed, 65,000 artifacts recovered and after a huge investment the abandonment of the graving dock project at a cost some estimate in excess of 100 million dollars.  This is a story I want to know more about and will probably post on from time to time.

But for today, set aside the sad history and feast your eyes on the above small sculpture of a whale discovered during the summer of 2009 at Tse-whit-zen during mopping up remediation.  The artist has captured the essence of whale!  The article doesn’t say, but there may be a socket on the lower back of the whale just in front of the tail – perhaps this was the handle for a small chisel, or a knife.  I also wonder if it doesn’t go the other way up — the mouth is asymmetric and the arching back of a diving whale would be a more natural posture.  Either way, this is a happy little sculpture, probably dating from about 2,000 years ago.

3 responses to “Tse-whit-zen whale

  1. I hate to turn Happy Whale into sophisticated and cool whale, but I’m with you on the other-way-up idea. Is Happy Whale’s “eye” really a socket for some kind of fin attachment?


  2. Hi Chris — yeah it would be nice to see some better pictures from more angles. I wouldn’t expect a composite sculpture with inserted fin just on what I’ve seen of portable NWC art of this vintage, though its possible of course. More likely, when you look at the position of the eye to the mouth in these whales the eye often appears to be below the mouth – and in any case is that actually the eye or a speck of dirt?

    The article describes it as a toy but I’d be more inclined to think decorated haft, which also makes the attached fins idea less likely.


  3. The most comprehensive account of the Tse-Whit-zen story was written by Lynda V. Mapes (Seattle Times writer) and published in 2009 by the University of Washington Press. The title is “Breaking Ground”.

    I highly recommend it!

    Dale Fishel


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