Object: Snowshoes

E/1944/1/176
Model Snowshoes
Unknown tribe
North America: Alaska
ca. 1944
Materials: Wood, sinew, leather, twine

Snowshoes have been used by humans around the world for thousands of years. Some of the oldest known snowshoes have been found in Central Asia and date back to approximately 4000-3000 BCE. There are many different types and shapes of snowshoes but all are designed for the same purpose. Historically, in North America there were five basic shapes, or types, of snowshoes: the spear (or lance), the leaf, the disc (or pear), the ellipse, and ovate. Each shape was influenced by local terrain and snowfall amounts. A snowshoe used in areas of light snow and dense forest was less desirable in open terrain with deep drifting snow. Likewise certain shapes were preferred for long distance travel.

All snowshoes, regardless of type or origin, are meant to help a person walk on top of deep snow without having ones feet sink below the surface. This makes walking easier and helps to minimize the amount of snow that accumulates on ones feet and legs, keeping the wearer drier. Snowshoes work by spreading out the weight of your foot over a larger area, in the opposite way a pair of high heels concentrate ones weight on a small point. By spreading the weight of the wearer out over a larger area, the snow’s surface can then support the weight of the wearer without collapsing. The density of the snow and the weight of the wear affect how large the snowshoes need to be in order to effectively distribute the weight.

Traditionally snowshoes, like the model shoes shown above, were made of a lightweight wooden frame that was laced together or covered with animal skins. Today snowshoes are still popular and have evolved into high tech outdoor equipment, utilizing the latest materials and technology.

The following video shows George Albert of Ruby, Alaska making and talking about traditional Alaskan snowshoes.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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