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Ivory and its Widespread Use in Cultural Artifacts

Elephant ivory in large and small quantities has been incorporated into cultural artifacts for thousands of years. As long ago as 1600 BC workshops in Mycenae were producing ivory boxes and furniture inlaid with ivory for export to the Greek mainland. In Egypt during the reign of Tutankhamun it was used as inlay in luxury goods, such as chests or head supports.
Ivory has been carved, valued and appreciated in Africa, Europe, India, the Far East and America. Its use charts and reflects the changing culture of the world over many centuries and over widely differing cultures.
The items illustrated in this short document demonstrate the widespread use of ivory in a range of antique objects, objects which were created at a time when elephants roamed Africa in their millions and the source of the material was primarily animals that had died from natural causes. To the uninitiated, ‘antique ivory’ conjures up images of carved tusks or figures made entirely of ivory, but these are in a minority. Its use is far more widespread, ranging from small pieces of inlay on wooden tea caddies through to thin slithers used as a stable base for the portrait miniatures that proved popular in 18th-century Europe and North America.

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