Elephant ivory: An overview of changes to its stringent regulation and considerations for its identification

Stephanie E. Hornbeck


Elephant ivory has been considered a prized luxury material across world cultures from ancient times to the present day. Elephant ivory is the most highly valued of all ivories and describes the material comprising the tusks of Asian male and African male and female elephants, as well as that of their relative, the mammoth. Today the collection of ivory art and artifacts is inextricably linked to the plight of the African elephant and its status as a seriously threatened species, as demand for elephant ivory has risen sharply in the last decade. In 2014, international and US national laws were again strengthened to combat the rise in trafficking of elephant ivory. The 2016 revision of the African elephant rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act aims to achieve a near-total ban in commerce of raw and worked ivory and affects transit of legally documented worked ivory art and artifacts as well. As conservators may be involved in the identification and sampling of ivory materials, it is important to be aware of the methods to identify ivory and new regulations that apply to it.

ADDENDUM (11/2017): The link provided for the reference, Hornbeck, S. 2010 (revised 2016). Ivory: Identification and regulation of a precious material. Washington, DC: Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, in the attached PDF is no longer active. A revised version of the document including updates on changes in legislation and additions to the selected bibliography can be found in the References section of the AIC wiki page on Ivory at http://www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/Ivory

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2015 | Miami | Volume 22