M12153 | Pendant

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Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Arctic?
Inuit: Nunavimiut?
1830-1865, 19th century
3 x 4.8 cm
Gift of the Natural History Society of Montreal
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Comb (10)
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The Thule people, ancestors of today's Inuit, devoted a large part of their creative energies to decorating everyday items and making toys. Single or double lines, sometimes linked by check marks or lines resembling the letter "Y", representations of animals, and scenes from the hunt and everyday life are just some of the designs found on the many ivory objects that they crafted, in particular hunting tools and objects associated with women such as needlecases, combs and pendants.

Keys to History

Ivory combs such as these were prized possessions, and the elaborate designs reflect the importance of hair among Inuit women. There is a traditional Inuit song about combing one's hair at sunrise.

The combs served a less exotic purpose, as well, because lice were once a fact of Inuit life.

The holes drilled near the top of the semicircular comb may have served to attach the comb to a needlecase.

  • What

    These are combs made of ivory. The Inuit hunted narwhal, walrus and whales for their meat and blubber. They used the ivory tusks and the whale's teeth to make weapons, tools and decorative pendants, as well as small combs like these.

  • Where

    It is thought that these combs come from the Ungava Bay area of Nunavik.

  • When

    There is no record of when precisely these combs fell into the hands of Qallunaat (white people).

  • Who

    Members of the Natural History Society of Montreal somehow acquired these combs. The group, composed largely of physicians and educators, was the oldest scientific organization in Canada. The members collected a variety of ethnographic items from 1827 until they disbanded in 1925.