The History And Trade Of Ivory

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The purpose of this report is to provide an insight into the history and culture that surrounds the acquisition, use and trade of ivory. The material will be explored through three windows of time and place; these being pre-colonial African culture, early Asian history, and 19th Century European use and trade. The interaction that has taken place between humans and elephants, for their ivory, throughout history not only gives an insight into the qualities and use of the material, but provides an understanding into the human use and application of value onto a material and the relationship with its source. Elephants have long been hunted by man for their meat, oil and hide. More significant however is the hunting of elephants for ivory. Elephants are the most common source of ivory in comparison to other sources such as hippopotamus, mammoth fossils, sperm whale and walrus (Burack 1984). Ivory is a certain type of modified dentin, existing as certain types of teeth which generally extend out of the mouth of an animal. Identified most commonly as the tusks on an elephant, they act as necessary tools for existence, helping to obtain food and for situations where attack or defence from a threat are required (Ross 1995). An elephant’s strength to lift and support objects is enabled through the tusks which exist on the elephant as the two upper incisor teeth, embedded as part of the skull and upper jaw (Ross 1995). Their length differs dependent on the age, sex and species of the animal. As a material, ivory is somewhat comparable to materials such as bone, marble, alabaster, white jade and shell. However, its physical structure provides a uniqueness from other materials – it is soft and easily workable, however incredibly durable and... ... middle of paper ... ...the Vatican has refused to sign the treaty which would end the Vatican’s ability to sell religious artefacts made of ivory (Payne 2013). This is an indication of the role that high-value materials play in religion and more so a reflection of the role of religion on the use of materials. European and American use and trade of ivory since the 19th Century has demonstrated a drastic change in the relationship between humans and materials; colonisation and mass-production encouraged a less thoughtful, economy-driven material culture (Ross 1995). Through the exploration of the material, its use, trade and acquisition throughout history and from multiple cultural perspectives, this report has given an insight into how ivory has played an important role in the human experience and the understanding of how materials inform and are informed with our cultural interactions.

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