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The Ulu: Iconic Knife Of Alaska Was Made Of A Variety Of Materials

Slate ulu dating back a millenium.

If It Was Durable, & Was Readily Available, People Made Ulus Out Of It: Wood, Stone, Metal, Ivory...

The ulu -- or Alaskan knife -- is a marvelously adaptive tool that has been used all over Alaska. It's considered "a woman's knife," used for women's chores, like fleshing animal hides, and cutting up food. (The "man's knife" tends to be more dagger-like. Often more like a bayonet.)

You'd hardly know the blade of this knife is made of stone.
Ulus were traditionally made of stone, usually slate that had been sharpened. Handles were made of bone, wood or antler. Eventually, ulu blades were made out of metal, including saws.

This is traditionally an Eskimo knife, although people in Alaska and elsewhere have adapted to using it. It takes a certain amount of skill to learn to use an ulu; items are cut by grabbing the top handle, and the ulu blade is rocked back and forth. Or, its razor sharp blade deftly slices open whale or seal meat. Sometimes, on Alaska TV, you'll see people using the ulu to separate whale blubber from the rest of the meat, at outdoor gatherings where the whale is divided in a coastal village out on the beach.

Ulus are very much used in Alaska today by indigenous people. they're not a thing of the past.

Nowadays, commercially made ulus are also sold to tourists as souvenirs. Remember, it doesn't matter what they look like. They're knives. And knives will be confiscated if they're in your carry-on luggage while boarding a plane. So think ahead if taking an Alaska ulu back home with you.

A more modern ulu, probably made from a commercial sawblade.

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