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'What happens in Sibera stays in Siberia...unless it is covered by The Siberian Times'

Flair to avoid snow glare - dazzling eye fashion from 2,000 years ago until today

By The Siberian Times
04 February 2019

Siberian goggles among the world’s earliest eyewear to prevent winter blindness from the sun’s piercing reflection.

Long before the emergence of modern-day protective sun glasses, Siberian hunters were forced to find their own solution to the dazzling glare reflecting from the snow. Picture: Kate Geraskina

These remarkable pictures and drawings show a range of ‘eye-conic Siberian spectacles’ in use today as they were in the deep past. 

Some are crafted in silver, but over the centuries these snow goggles - both a stark necessity and a facial fashion statement - were also made by the Chukchi people and Eskimo groups from walrus teeth, whalebone or leather as well as wood, bark, and hair. The softer materials were used especially in the deep winter cold, being kinder to the facial skin.

Those made from metal have tiny cross-like slits for the user to see while blotting out most of harsh bright sun rays from the eyes. 

Long before the emergence of modern-day protective sun glasses, Siberian hunters were forced to find their own solution to the dazzling glare reflecting from the snow, as our video from Yakutsk explains. 

In ancient times, like today, these goggles were made by skilled masters to combine effectiveness in blotting out the blinding light in some cases looking amazing.

Different ethnic groups across polar regions evolved their own distinctive style in snow goggles.

The most ancient known eyewear belong to the Old Bering Sea culture, the sites of which are located on the both sides of Bering Strait.

The oldest date for the culture - around 400 years BC - was obtained on Russian side, at Ekven graveyard, in Chukotka.

Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia


The most ancient known eyewear belong to the Old Bering Sea culture, the sites of which are located on the both sides of Bering Strait. Picture: YakutCostume, The Siberian Times


The peak of the culture is considered to be in second and third centuries AD. 

At Ekven and also Uelen graveyards snow goggles made of bone were found, dating from the first to the fifth centuries AD.

Some were decorated with carvings, some not, and examples are shown here in these drawings (XXXXX - I THINK ANNA HAS THESE DRAWINGS). 

Later the snow goggle tradition by Eskimos, for example the Inuits and Yupik, and the Chukchi people. 

They made goggles of bone, including whalebone, along with ivory from extinct mammoths, antler, and wood. 

Sometimes the surface of goggles was painted black to provide more protection from the sun. 

Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia

Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia

Snow goggles found in burials around Siberia; some of them were made of horse hair, the others of birch bark. Pictures: YakutCostume, The Siberian Times


Northern latitudes of the US and Canada also have a tradition for mankind such eyewear.

While there was an obvious practical use for the goggles, a variant of these ‘spectacles’ xxxx is believed to have been used by traditional shamans; for example a pair of goggles without holes of slips was found at Ekve

The Event and Dolgans people turned to metal in making the eyewear  with copper or tin or silver goggles inserted into a half-mask made of reindeer skin or  other pelt, or, later, cloth obtained from Russian incomers. Decorations with beads was also a feature.

The same type of goggles was also used by other Arctic people such as the  Nganasan or Khanty. The British Museum even has some examples.

The tradition continues to this day and is thriving in Yakutia - also known as Sakha Republic, the largest region in the Russian Federation. 

Going back in time, the Yakut people used a wide range of materials to make goggles - metal, birch bark, wood, bone, skin, and horsehair. 

Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia

Back into fashion - a craftsman in Yakutsk makes a pair of new snow goggles. Picture: The Siberian Times


The goggles created from horsehair comprised strips of intricate net. A surviving 19th century example comes not from Yakutia but Tuva, the mountainous region in southern Siberia, now in a collection in the Irkutsk Museum of Local History. 

Most of the metal goggles in Yakut collections are dated from between the 18th and early 20th centuries. 

Again, some definitely had ritualistic uses: they were deployed by shamans, and not in everyday day life for use in snow.

Many Yakuts recall that their grandfathers had very simple goggles made of birch bark. 

Most of the older goggles look rather simple - for example a metal strip with the small deepening for the nose and slots for sight. Others have  two round metal discs with a slit to see through while blotting out most of the glare; these were fixed into a the mask of skin or fur. 

A more modern evolution are goggles made of silver with cross-shaped slits, with a fur lining.

Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia


Snow goggles Siberia

All shapes, materials and colours, the Siberian snow goggles. Pictures: YakutCostume, The Siberian Times


This silver eyewear inspires modern local designers in Yakutia, as our photographs show.

Local historian Prokopy Nagovitsyn said: 'The round shaped silver goggles began to make an appearance in 19th century, when there appeared many rich people. 

‘The shape had a symbolic meaning - cross in the circle had been the symbol of the sun since neolithic times. 

‘Yet the cross-shaped cuts are convenient not when you are in tundra, but when you, for example, climb steps.’

He said: 'Such goggles were also used by shamans. People believed that when a man became a shaman, he could have kill with the might of his look, so these goggles could have been seen as a protective shield.'

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