27 oct 2010

Caribou goggles

Name: Snow goggles of caribou antler
Origin: Igloolik, northern Canada
Date: before 1822
Museum: British Museum
Dimensions: 12 cm length
'Snow blindness has always been around; from the time of my childhood I always experienced snow blindness once in a while. In those days they used to make snow goggles from wood. My father used to have wooden snow goggles, with slits for opening ... They are very effective as it cuts the light. The openings which are slits are the only light, they really do cut the light from the snow. Inside, the hollow would be darkened with soot'. George Agiaq Kappianaq, 2000
Snow goggles were used by peoples across the North American Arctic from Alaska to Greenland, probably up to two thousand years ago. Snow goggles not only protected the wearer from snow blindness, but due to their optic qualities, some also improved the sight of the wearer.
These goggles are carved from the hard rind of caribou antler. The pair above was collected among the Copper Inuit, the lower pair by William E. Parry on his second voyage in search for the Northwest Passage, probably near Igloolik in 1822. Parry employed Inuit to make snow goggles for his crew '... as the time was fast approaching when some such precaution would become necessary to guard the eyes from the excessive glare of reflected light.'

© Photos and text: British Museum

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