Arctic Ivory Needle

Arctic ivory needle from Cape Kialegak, Alaska (UCM 23870).

This ivory needle is from Cape Kialegak, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. It is 15 cm long, 1-7 mm wide, and 1-4 mm thick with a slightly bowed shape. There is an eyehole through the squared-off end. The other end is tapered and has a slight depression on it which indicates it might have been used as a lacing needle to push sinew through pre-made holes.

There are six etched lines that run the length of the needle and eight crossbars on the wider sides of the needle. Many Arctic groups are known for their ivory carving skills. Functional tools, such as this needle, harpoon heads, and knife handles, were carved from ivory. Additionally, ivory animal figures, such as birds, seals, and polar bears, were commonly made for use as gaming pieces or amulets.
Tools like needles were important for survival in the harsh Arctic environment. Needles were vital in the creation of warm clothes, which are essential for survival in the Arctic. Traditional Arctic clothing made from fur includes parkas, trousers, and boots. Often the fur was sewn on the inside of garments for extra warmth.
To learn more about the lifeways of Arctic peoples, come see the exhibition Inuit Voices at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, opening April 15, 2008. This ivory needle and many other examples of Arctic artifacts are on display at the museum until March 2009.