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The Question:

What is the term for the carved decorative feminine figure found on the bow of wooden ships?

The Answer:

Those are called figureheads. Technically they are found on the either the bowsprit or the prow of the ship.

Popularized by the Romans and the Vikings, the art form flourished in United States shipbuilding during the 18th and 19th centuries. Most often the carvings were a tribute to famous people or mythological creatures. They weren't always women.

Few examples of this art form exist today; however, The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va., has more than 300 carved figureheads and nameboards in its collection. Also, the historic Mystic Seaport in Connecticut has nearly 70 figureheads in its collection.

—The Editors

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