Nothing new under the sun

Nothing new under the sun
Called ilgaak in Inuktitut and nigaugek in Central Yupik, snow goggles were first used by Inuit people up to 2,000 years ago. Made from materials most readily available in the Arctic landscape – bone, antler, hoof, wood, even whale baleen – and carved to follow the facial contours of the individual wearer.

A horizontal slit cut into the frame reduces the light that can enter the eye while still allowing for a wide field of vision. This prevents photokeratitis (also known as ‘snow blindness’), a danger for inhabitants of Arctic conditions.
Blocking light waves from different directions, the goggles reduce glare using the same principles as the modern polarised lens. It has the added effect of improving the wearer’s eyesight, by limiting the amount of light able to enter the eye and allowing focus on a single object, a benefit for hunters in the Arctic landscape.
For thousands of years, this anti-glare technology remained the standard for eye protection in extreme polar conditions. A photograph taken before Roald Amundsen’s Antarctic expedition of 1911-12 shows the group wearing snow goggles, each pair designed and made by the owner.

The same principle can be found throughout the history of optics, as in a pair of ‘Sun Spectacles’ from the 1940s, made by London opticians Cleevis.
The Cubitts Workshop created their own version of the Inuit snow goggles. A remake of a 15th century model in hand carved wood, with a leather strap. Try them on in The Speculator .