Snow goggles


Inuit goggles, known as snow goggles, are a fascinating example of indigenous innovation and adaptation to extreme environments. These goggles were developed by the Inuit peoples of the Arctic region to protect their eyes from snow blindness, a condition caused by the reflection of ultraviolet (“UV”) rays off the snow, leading to temporary, painful vision loss. The roots of snow goggles have been traced back to the Old Bering Sea culture that existed on both sides of the Bering Strait. The tradition of using snow goggles was then passed down to the present-day Eskimos.

 The Inuit have historically lived in some of the most extreme cold weather conditions on earth, where blinding snowstorms and the bright reflection of sunlight off the snow are common. To combat the risk of snow blindness, they ingeniously developed snow goggles. The primary purpose of these goggles was to reduce the amount of sunlight entering the eyes, thereby preventing the reflection of UV rays from causing damage. They achieved this through a narrow slit in the goggles, which limited the field of vision but significantly reduced the light intensity. This design not only protected against snow blindness but also improved visibility in bright, snowy environments by reducing glare.

 Traditionally, Inuit goggles were made from materials readily available in the Arctic environment. The most common material was bone or antler, though wood and even marine ivory were used as well. The material would be carved to fit the wearer's face snugly, with a narrow slit for the eyes that allowed for limited but sufficient vision. The edges that contacted the face were often softened or lined with caribou fur to ensure a comfortable fit and to prevent the escape of body heat. They were then attached to the face using organic cords, made from caribou sinew for example.

 The design of these goggles varied slightly from one region to another, reflecting the specific environmental conditions and the cultural practices of each Inuit community. Despite these variations, the fundamental concept remained the same: to protect the eyes from the sun's reflections and to improve visibility in snowy conditions. An examination of snow goggle design elements used by various prehistoric Inuit cultures reveals several recurring design motifs, many of which are fairly consistent and common to specific, relatively short periods .In most OldBering Sea designs, and occasionally in Ipiutak examples, the engraved composition includes a pair of circular “eye” design elements positioned below the actual functioning eye openings.

 In a typical Ipiutak or Old Bering Sea engraved composition, animal-like “nostrils” are often incorporated on or about the bridge of the nose.

 While traditional materials like bone and antler are less commonly used today, the design principle of Inuit goggles has been adapted into modern eyewear used in snow sports and expeditions. Modern versions of snow goggles often incorporate advanced materials like plastics for the frame and polarized lenses to reduce glare, but the essential design - a narrow opening to protect the eyes and reduce light entry - remains influenced by the traditional Inuit invention.

 Inuit goggles are not just a testament to human ingenuity in adapting to harsh environments; they also highlight the sophisticated understanding the Inuit people had of their natural world and the challenges they faced. These goggles represent a remarkable blend of function, design, and cultural identity, offering insight into the relationship between humans and their environment.

Circa 1,000 AD - 1,200 AD
Marine ivory
Width: 7 in, 18 cm

Collected at the village of Wales, Alaska

Jeffrey Myers, New York

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