LOOKING BACK – JULY 2010

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THE ‘SNOW’S’ SO BRIGHT, I GOTTA WEAR SHADES

As inhabitants of regions blanketed in snow and ice during much of the year, the Inuit have been exposed to a significant amount of harmful glare for thousands of years. Consequently, the Inuit had to take precautions to protect their eyes against debilitating snow blindness. This was done by carving horizontal slits and recesses for the nose into eye shades made of wood (as seen in photo at left of a pair of 1920 ice glasses), bone, and other local materials. These shades most often contained two slits, one for each eye. However, Inuit eye shades carved with one continuous slit or slits in the shape of crosses, which helped increase the field of vision, have also been found. For additional protection, the shades were blackened on the interior and fashioned to curve around the face, a precursor of today’s wrap sunglasses. They were then securely fastened with leather thongs.

Long before the invention of sunglasses or snow goggles as we know them today, this simple yet effective method was the preferred means of shielding against dangerous amounts of light and wind.

Courtesy of Museum of Vision & Ophthalmic Heritage, San Francisco, CA.
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