Ulu with a musk ox horn handle

Copper Inuit, early 19th century AD
From Coronation Gulf, Canada, North America

Inuit women use an ulu, a crescent-shaped knife, in most aspects of food and skin preparation. This example, of exceptional size, is made of native copper and has a musk ox horn handle. P.W. Dease and T. Simpson collected it while exploring western Canadian Arctic shores in 1839. It has thus become one of the earliest Copper Inuit tools to have been collected. Samuel Hearne led the first European expedition to the Coppermine River in 1771, and obtained a sample of native copper washed out from the bank, which was deposited in The British Museum in 1818 by the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company.

The first substantial European contact with Copper Inuit only occurred in the 1850s when expeditions were sent in search of Sir John Franklin, who had been lost during the search for the Northwest Passage to Asia in the 1840s.

By about 1914 copper tools had ceased to be made and used, in part because of the activities of J.F. Bernard on the Teddy Bear trading steel for fur and Inuit artefacts. Steel ulus remain in constant use in much of the Arctic.

Native copper, from Lake Superior was used by other peoples, for instance the Hopewell Ohio.

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More information


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


Width: 29.000 cm

Museum number

AOA St 758


Christy Collection


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