The enigmatic mystery of the narwhal tusks began with the ancient Inuit folklore speculating on the existence of these magical unicorns of the sea. The myth of the narwhal being transmuted from a drowned woman with hair twisted and plaited to resemble a spiraled tusk has long fascinated the Inuit people. From hundreds of years ago, these tusks were thought by many to possess magical properties, including the power to purify poisoned water and to endow its owner with luck and authority.
In medieval Europe, such tusks were believed to be horns from the legendary unicorn. They served as objects indicating statutory importance and symbols of sovereignty in royal ceremonies and religious rites. Shrouded in captivating mystery and enchanted with magical powers, bearer of such objects are bestowed with reverence and authority. The mere sight of the majestic tusk will make all around him succumb with fear and awe.
Centuries of fascination by the narwhal tusk since its first appearance in Europe in the 10th to 11th centuries can be demonstrated by the wealth of their value in historical Europe. In fact, one such tusk was worth more money in Renaissance Italy than what Michelangelo was paid to paint the renowned ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Around 1580, Sir Humphrey Gilbert presented a carved and bejewelled tusk to Queen Elizabeth I which valued over £10,000, an amount just enough to purchase an entire castle. The charm of these hynotising helical tusks remained as they continued to feature as enrapturing treasures amongst the cabinets of curiosity.
Narwhals are medium-sized toothed whales characterised by an elongated spiraled left canine tooth extending up to 3 metres long from their heads. This distinctive feature of a prominent, usually single tusk gained its Greek-derived scientific name, Monodon Monoceros, meaning ‘one tooth, one horn’. These fascinating marine inhabitants are active in the Arctic waters around Greenland, Canada, Norway and Russia.
Recent findings by Dr. Martin Nweeia, researcher at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, indicate that the richly innervated narwhal tusk provides remarkable sensory capabilities which allow the creature to detect changes in water temperature, pressure and particle gradients for food navigation. As these tusks were predominantly found on male species and rarely on females, it was also believed that they play a role in male dominance.
See also two other narwhal tusks offered in this sale, lots 3044 and 3100.