April 19, 2012

Some History | Slick Inuit Shades

Better known as snow goggles, these cool shades are a type of eyewear traditionally worn by the Inuit people of the Arctic to prevent snow blindness while hunting or traveling on spring ice.

And yes, we can credit the fabulous Inuit of the far north for the world's first sunglasses, which can be dated back 2000 years ago and are found in the west coast Alaska region.

Many styles of snow goggles were worn across the Alaskan and Canadian arctic. The goggles are traditionally made of a piece of bone or ivory pierced with slits but new ones may be made with wood.

The goggles fit tightly against the face so that the only light entering is through the slits. Gunpowder or soot mixed with oil and rubbed on the outside cuts down the glare even more.

As the amount of sunshine increased in late winter and spring, people wore goggles to protect their eyes from the painful snow blindness that occurs when strong ultraviolet light reflects from snow and ice, burning the retinas. The Inuit technology of the shades reduced the amount of glare reaching the wearer’s eyes, while still providing a wide range of vision. The greater the width of the slits the larger the field of view. In addition, the goggles helped focus the wearer's vision like a permanent squint to improve visual acuity - in a sense, giving him superhuman vision.

This example was crafted from walrus ivory and dates back to between 1200 AD and 1600 AD.

In 2006, Christie's auctioned off this pair of ancient Punuk Eskimo ivory snow goggles from St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.

Anavik wearing snow goggles made of wood. Photo by Rudolph M. Anderson, May 1916, Canadian Museum of Civilization.

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