knife (hunting, fishing & trapping)

15.28

This knife is a rare example of a pre-contact Inuit copper blade, made by the Inuinnait people of Central Canadian Arctic in the early 19th century and collected by Edward Lovett. The Arctic is the site of many meteorite strikes, the angle of entry at the pole causing the meteorite to burn up less fiercely than it would elsewhere on Earth. As a result, when meteorites enter the atmosphere in the Arctic region they are far more likely to reach the ground intact. These meteorites have been striking for millions of years landing amid the tundra and ice. There they can often be found at or near the surface and simply collected.

Meteorites commonly have a very high copper content, and this copper is often very pure. As a result, these meteoric copper nuggets are the only type of metal readily available to the Inuit, who have never had the facility to mine raw materials nor the necessary materials to smelt them even if they did. Raw copper, however, is relatively soft and can be shaped through cold-forging, beating the copper flat between a heavy stone and a stone anvil. With finer tools, this flattened copper can be sharpened into blades, such as this one, with a bone handle wrapped in hide cord. These blades were among the most cherished possessions of the Inuinnait, passed through family lines and used for ceremonial practices as well as everyday food and hide preparation. So associated were the Inuinnait with copper that for many years they were known to scholarship as the "Copper Eskimo"; one group even worshipped three very large copper meteorites raised in standing positions and known as the father, mother and child, until a US Navy exploration vessels stole the god-meteorites and took them to an American museum in New York.

When European visitors started to arrive in the mid-nineteenth century they brought manufactured steel knives with them, which were far more efficient than the copper knives of the Inuinnait. Within a few years the copper knives had fallen out of use and became available for explorers and traders to purchase. Today these copper knives can be found in museum collections across Europe and North America but have not been seen in the communities from which they came in more than a century.

Collection Information

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