Knife and Sheath
Materials: Iron, hide, wood
This particular object is a small curved iron knife approximately 8 3/4 inches in length and 1 1/4 inches in width at its widest point on the wooden handle and resides in the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. According to Museum records, this knife is believed to have come from the North American region and was used by the Inuit.
The term “Inuit” refers to native peoples of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions when specific tribal affiliation cannot be determined. Based on research, however, one can see the similarities that this knife shares with quite a few different, regional tribal locations. First, this knife shares a similar form, including a curved blade attached to a straight handle, with the Yupik people. This same knife style, however, was also emulated by a tribe much farther to the southeast, the Tahltan of British Columbia. Second, Native Alaskans made and continue to make many different types of knives. These curved blades are primarily employed in the carving of wood or bone in order to make tools, wearable items, or artwork. A curved, long blade would be much easier to use for carved items because of their ability to make precision cuts, rather than the Ulu knife, which is normally associated with the term “Alaskan knife.” Ulu knives are better suited to chopping and don’t have the carving power of a curved blade, such as the one in the Ethnology Collection would have.
The knife in the Ethnology Collection also has a crooked sheath to go with the curved blade. The sheath is made out of leather, although it is unclear what animal hide was used to make the leather. Most similar blades either do not have their original sheath, or the sheath is made from another material such as wood or ivory.
While the specific identification of this knife is unknown, it is without a doubt from the Inuit peoples of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions of North America. It also illustrates an excellent example of how the form (the curved blade) of an object can directly relate to the function (precise carving).
Museum of Inuit Art:
British Museum, Arctic Peoples: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/cultures/the_americas/arctic_peoples.aspx
Canadian Museum of History, First Peoples:
The Dennos Museum Center, Inuit Gallery: