A Beautiful Driftwood-and-Sealskin Map, Carved by an Inuit Hunter in 1925

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Jan. 8 2014 12:15 PM

A Beautiful Driftwood-and-Sealskin Map, Carved by an Inuit Hunter in 1925

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

Inuit hunter Silas Sandgreen made this map for the Library of Congress in 1925. The map represents the Crown Prince Islands, in Disko Bay, on the west coast of Greenland. Sandgreen carved driftwood to signify the islands’ landmasses, painting the material to mark areas of rocks and vegetation. The driftwood is sewn to sealskin.

An item about the map that ran in Popular Science in September 1933 contended that Sandgreen had “never seen a map” before carving this—an assertion that played upon American fascination with the “primitive” nature of Inuit lives.

Advertisement

However, in 1948, an editor for the cartography journal Imago Mundi noted that Inuit often made such maps for their own use. In other words, even if he'd never seen a map on paper, Sandgreen’s map emerged from a historical tradition of indigenous cartography.

Inuit also carved portable wooden “maps” to be used while navigating coastal waters. These pieces, which were small enough to be carried in a mitten, represented coastlines in a continuous line, up one side of the wood and down the other. The maps were compact, buoyant, and could be read in the dark.

InuitMapFinal
Carved by Silas Sandgreen, 1926.

Library of Congress

InuitMapSidewaysFinal
Another view of Sandgreen's map.

Library of Congress

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.