Ancient Woolly Mammoth Ivory
Woolly mammoth tusk ivory is one of the ‘fossilized’ or ‘mineralized’ ivories that have been the foundation of my artwork for over 30 years. This ancient ivory has been buried in permafrost and preserved since the end of the last ice age when the mammoths went extinct. Though ancient, woolly mammoth ivory is not petrified. Because the tusks were buried in frozen ground they are preserved so that even though they are approximately 10,000 to 100,000 years old they are still the original organic material. The ivory can take on coloration from minerals that leech into the tusks while buried.
The ancient mammoth ivory is excavated from the permafrost of the Siberian tundra, which the woolly mammoth inhabited for more than 100,000 years. During the last ice age, the mammoth went extinct as the direct result of rapidly plummeting temperatures that literally flash froze the entire population of Mammuthus primigenius. The dry, cold environment of Siberia combined with the massive sheets of ice from the ice age created the ideal environment for the preservation. The woolly mammoths have been entombed under the Siberian permafrost ever since, waiting to be unearthed.
Ancient Fossil Walrus Tusk Ivory
Fossil walrus ivory is very old, ranging from 500 to 3,000 years in age. Excavated from the permafrost in August and September each year, primarily by the coastal Yupik and culture, fossil walrus ivory along with mammoth ivory are the most colorful of ivories. The term ‘fossil’ is really a misnomer, but this is what the material is commonly called. The term ‘ancient’ is a more accurate one as none of the ivory has yet turned to stone.
Each piece is unique, its color determined by the kind of minerals it has lain with in the earth. The indigenous Inuit cultures of the far north have hunted the walrus for thousands of years. Every part of the animal had a use in the survival of these peoples in an often hostile environment. The tusks were shaped into hundreds of objects; mostly tools like sled runners, net sinkers, and fire starters, but also toys and symbolic objects. Only the native people are allowed to dig for fossil walrus ivory on their lands. Once purchased from them it can be sold and resold across state lines at will.
The African elephant is on the Endangered Species List. As of June 9, 1989 all imports of African elephant ivory into the United States, in any form, are banned. A test to determine the difference between elephant ivory and mammoth ivory, the Schreger lines, has been developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to keep any elephant ivory from entering the country under the guise of mammoth ivory. This test alone, while useful, is not definitive for worked ivory. Please read the full text of the Fish & Wildlife page for other indicators and useful information about other types of ivory. Any African elephant ivory that was in the United States prior to June 9, 1989 is legal to buy and sell across state lines.
Whale teeth have an unmistakable shape, and they can hardly be mistaken for any other kind of ivory, because normally the whole tooth is used in its natural shape. General, the teeth are between 10 and 20 cm long, but they can reach a length of 25cm. Only the lower part is hollow. Killer whale teeth have the same shape as sperm whale teeth, but they are smaller and much harder. Both kinds have an outer surface of cementum, but the hard tooth enamel is only sometimes present at the tip,
Tagua Nuts and Vegetable Ivory
The source of vegetable ivory is the inner seed of the South American ivory palm, and is thus completely made of cellulose (rather than collagen). These seeds are the size and shape of a small hen’s egg, are very hard, and are solid all the way through. Vegetable ivory is smooth, takes a good polish, easily absorbs dyes, and is relatively inexpensive. It is used for small items only, such as dice and buttons. Since about WWII, vegetable ivory has been largely replaced by plastics.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES
The international trade in wildlife and plants is regulated by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) [a multinational protégé of the United Nations]. Formed in 1973, the aim is to establish worldwide controls over plants & wildlife that require protecting due to declining populations.
Headquartered in Switzerland, CITES, delegates meet every two years to review data & set new quotas to increase, decrease or maintain the level of protection on individual species. CITES regulations do not control a country’s internal commerce, only the international trade between member nations.