What are the grades of fossil mammoth ivory?

Sourced from the isolated regions in Serbia and Arctic during the short summer months, fossil ivory hunters face cold icy winds and waters, looking for the uncovered tusks that poke out from the melting permafrost. Over 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, wooly mammoths roamed the earth but perished at the end of the last Ice age. Although it is rare to excavate a fossilized mammoth, the ivory tusks fetch exorbitant prices, all over the world.

Numerous male mammoth ivory tusks have been found to be over 14 feet in length and are longer than the female tusks that have been excavated. After the ban on elephant ivory, mammoth ivory tusks have been in global demand. The fossil ivory is harvested from the permafrost where it has been buried for eons and later segregated and categorized for sale.

Though the different grades of ivory are unearthed, not all of the ivory is suitable for sculptures and carvings. The top category A has the best ivory which includes complete tusks, high quality well-preserved ivory. The tusks length and weight might vary and it is not cut for artists. At the end of the spectrum is Bark ivory which does not have all layers of inner ivory, lacking the basic material for tusk carvings.

Most of the ivory has a bluish or brownish discoloration due to lying buried in mineral rich soil for thousands of years. Artists looking for ivory and sheets of ivory can source them from different dealers. The prices of ivory vary depending upon the color and size, so a large piece of tusk with milky white ivory would command a higher price than the small, brownish tinged ivory. Sculptors require solid ivory with no or little discoloration and these sculptures sell for a higher price range. Small pieces, broken tusks and cards of ivory are usually cheaper as raw material and are used for inlay, handles of decorative swords, knife and even pistols. It is used to craft beads, necklaces and jewelry. The artists and traders try their best to ensure no piece of fossil ivory is wasted as it is a limited and precious commodity today.

But artists that paint on ivory require wafer-thin sheets, cut from blocks of ivory. Depending upon the artist’s requirements, long, narrow sheets and circular discs cut as fine sheets are used to paint on ivory. Storage of ivory is another keys aspect of maintaining it. It needs optimum temperature and moisture else it starts to crack and turn brittle. See some of the best carvings and hand painted ivory at http://www.mammothivory.info


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