Inuit Cutlery

I heard this story on an episode of QI (Series G, episode "Geography") that tells of Sir John Ross, a British naval officer and Arctic explorer.

In 1818, Ross led one of the many attempts to find the Northwest Passage. During his time, he collected samples, made a lot of notes about currents and tides, and made contact with Inuits in the Arctic Highland–people who had had no contact whatsoever with Western culture. In fact, this group of Inuits was so isolated that they believed they were the only people on Earth before meeting Ross.

Ross was startled to note that the Inuits had fashioned their own cutlery. It was remarkable, firstly, that they would develop the exact same eating tools as Europeans as opposed to, say, cultures that eat solely with their hands or with other types of tools, like chopsticks. What was even more astounding was that this cutlery was made out of metal, and the Inuits had no knowledge of mining or smelting.

Where in the hell did they get metal knives, forks, and spoons?

If you said 'aliens' . . . then, actually, you're in the right ballpark.

The Inuits took metal they found from three large meteorites that had landed in the Arctic Highlands. They called them "The Woman", "The Dog", and "The Tent", after the shapes they resembled. They extracted and shaped metal fragments, strapped them to pieces of horn, and viola: cutlery.

This quotation comes from the recap of this QI episode here. As they discuss on QI:

"70 years later, Admiral Peary, who claimed to be the first man to reach the North Pole (although the claim is now largely discredited) stole the meteorites and sold them to a museum for $40,000.

"He also took six Inuit children with him, four of whom died of tuberculosis immediately. One of them survived and was brought up by an American couple. He then discovered that his father's bones where a public exhibit in the Natural History Museum in New York. He complained but Peary refused to do anything about it. However, he did give him enough money to return home. The bones were not returned till 1993."

I cannot imagine walking through the Natural History Museum and going, "Dad? . . . Is that you?" This whole story has made me seriously reconsider my opinion of Admiral Peary.

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