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K. Kris Hirst

The History of Ivory

By July 23, 2012

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Ivory, the stuff that comes from elephant (and hippopotamus and rhinoceros and walrus) tusks, has always been a bit of a fascination for me. Although I don't remember the circumstances of how I came to touch ivory for the first time, I clearly remember the feel of ivory, the weight, the almost vegetable-smooth texture of the polished carving. So, of course, I had to write about it.

Comb with Ibex Effigy (Hippopotamus Ivory), Naqada, Predynastic Period
Comb with Ibex Effigy (Hippopotamus Ivory), Naqada, Predynastic Period. Photo by Guillaume Blanchard.

Ivory is one of the things I'm going to call "raw materials". They aren't archaeological objects, per se, but they are substances, animal, vegetable and mineral, that people in the past became aware of, sought, cherished, and used in many ways. Stuff like amber and jade and obsidian, and salt and bitumen. Each of these things was specifically selected for its beauty and/or usefulness. Some, like ivory, have been recognized for 30,000 years and more.

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