Snow goggles of caribou antler

Iglulingmiut, early 19th century AD
Collected on Winter Island, Nunavut, Canada, North America (1822)

These goggles are carved from the hard rind or outer edge of caribou antler.

Snow goggles were probably first made at the time of the Old Bering Sea Culture in Siberia, up to two thousand years ago, and perhaps a thousand years before medieval Europeans began to use spectacles. Historic Arctic peoples across the North American Arctic from Alaska to Greenland used goggles when hunting and travelling. They helped them to avoid snow-blindness in bright spring conditions. They also protect the eyes from the cold. The main disadvantage of snow goggles is that the wearer cannot see the ground properly, a serious drawback when travelling on rough or rotten sea ice.

Early European explorers recognized their usefulness and commissioned goggles for their crew. William Parry, who collected the lower pair on his second voyage in search for the Northwest Passage in 1822, recorded that, while wintering in the Arctic during the 1820s, he employed Iglulingmiut to make some snow goggles:

'... as the time was fast approaching when some such precaution would become necessary to guard the eyes from the excessive glare of reflected light.'

Find in the collection online

More information

Bibliography

J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

Dimensions

Length: 12.000 cm
Length: 12.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1855,11-26.458;AOA 1824,4-10.12

ENA965

Gift of John Barrow

Location

Find in the collection online



Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore