January 2009 Artifact of the Month

Artifact: Arctic Goggles

Materials: Bone, sinew


For generations the Inuit men have taught their sons two skills basic to survival in the Arctic climate: hunting and carving. Carving was essential because it provided the tools used to hunt.

Protection from the elements in the arctic desert was of primary importance to hunters and travelers. This small piece of technology protected the most important of hunting and navigating tools: the eye. The bright glare of the late-winter sun reflecting on the snow could do great damage by causing snow blindness, a burning of the retina, which caused painful inflammation. Snow goggles were made out of readily available walrus ivory, found prehistoric mammoth ivory or bone. Their concave design put the eye in shadow while allowing for its unobstructed movement.

This pair of goggles was carved from bone and sinew. Bone is easy to detect because of its porous interior and smooth exterior. The long narrow slit provided an amazingly panoramic view. Saw marks are visible inside the slit, revealing its handmade construction. Drilling a vertical hole for the sinew head strap created a tight, stable fit. Snow goggles were a common piece of equipment for the Inuit people. Although our pair is very simple, some were embellished with carved designs and have two eyeholes.