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

The Vault
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.


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.

Carved by Silas Sandgreen, 1926.

Library of Congress

Another view of Sandgreen's map.

Library of Congress



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
Oct. 21 2014 8:38 AM An Implanted Wearable Gadget Isn’t as Crazy as You’d Think Products like New Deal Design’s UnderSkin may be the future.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.