Arctic tools

Arctic Tools

Much of the Arctic is noted for its emptiness. It is too cold for trees to grow, and so the barren tundra and open ice is swept by strong winds. The peoples who live there do have access to some wood, which drifts north from warmer regions in the summer, but often they must make do with other materials. Most commonly available is stone, but in the pre-contact period, stone was hard to work into useable shapes. Stone tools took the form of simple slate blades of the design that later became the metal ulu or heavy pounders.

Some metal was available - the conditions of the Arctic mean that in some places copper can be salvaged from meteorite strikes and pounded into shape with stone hammers. Copper thus became a sacred metal to many peoples in the region, used for the most important chores and carefully safeguarded.

The other main source of material was from the animals they world_gallery:layered_info:publish:encounters:americas:arctic:arctic_hunting|hunted, particularly seals and narwhals. Bone and ivory was easier to shape and could be broken and sharpened into blades and hooks. These materials were essential to survival in the region prior to the arrival of Europeans.

The Arctic peoples were ingenious tool-makers, who produced a wide array of equipment from their limited surroundings in order to survive in the fierce cold of the Arctic winter. As European traders became more common in the nineteenth century they rapidly adopted European tools, particularly those made of metal, as more efficient and less likely to break. The old knowledge was not abandoned however, and Arctic people can still produce beautiful, highly decorated and locally sourced tools when necessity dictates.

Arctic Tools

* 6.348ii snow knife * 14.260 ladle * 24.102 chisel * 9.160 pick * 9.738 adze * 9.753 bow drill * 9.792 strap drill * nn5018 bow drill

Collection Information

These objects are only a part of our collections, of which there are more than 350,000 objects. This information comes from our collections database. Some of this is incomplete and there may be errors. This part of the website is also still under construction, so there may be some fields repeated or incorrectly formatted information.

The database sometimes uses language taken from historical documents to help research, which may now appear outdated and even offensive. The database also includes information on objects that are considered secret or sacred by some communities.

If you have any further information about objects in our collections or can suggest corrections to our information, please contact us: enquiry@horniman.ac.uk