Workshop 2 abstracts

Session 1 - Ivory Histories: trade, working, acquisition and other stories

The Viking Trade in Walrus Ivory
Dr Søren M Sindbæk

Walrus Ivory was an export success for Scandinavians in the Viking and Medieval periods. In particular, it was an essential commodity for the Norse in Greenland, as revealed by the studies of Dr. Else Roesdahl. For centuries, the colonists took part in an ivory trade with Europe, which enabled them to maintain a European life-style on the edge of the world. The growing supply of Indian elephant ivory in Europe in the late Middle Ages may even have contributed significantly to the demise of the Norse settlement in Greenland.
However, there is clear evidence that walrus ivory was already worked in pre-Viking Norway. This little-researched item brought arctic Norway into long-distance exchange networks with urban Western Europe, and could well be the explanation for the surprising number of southern luxuries from the Merovingian period discovered in northern Norway. The study of ivory thus holds a potential to show the long sought-for trade-links suspected to have preceded and given rise to the Viking Age.

Whale Ivory Valuables in Fiji
Steven Hooper

Sperm whale teeth had high indigenous value in Polynesia, but because Polynesians did not hunt whales, they were reliant on strandings for supply. At the end of the eighteenth century, with the arrival of European whalers and traders eager for local sandalwood and bêche-de-mer, supplies of teeth increased and had profound impacts on local political relations and forms of chiefly regalia. This was particularly the case in Fiji, where elaborate breastplates and necklaces were made around 1810-1850. They were used as strategic gifts as well as ornaments. Today, a whale’s tooth on a coir cord (tabua) remains the greatest valuable in Fijian culture; they are presented on all formal occasions – weddings, funerals, visits, church/school openings, etc.
This paper will analyse the significance of whale ivory in Fijian culture in terms of its association with powers from the sea and with chiefly bodies. Tabua will be discussed as portable embodiments of chiefly potency, metaphorically and metonymically connected to the power of chiefs/gods. It will also show that, whereas in the nineteenth century the use of whale ivory was a chiefly prerogative, now any Fijian can have access to tabua and behave in a chiefly way.

Nineteenth Century Carved Tusks from the Loango Coast in the African Collection of World Museum Liverpool
Zachary Kingdon

Loango was initially one of the provinces of the Kongo Kingdom in Central Africa. After the collapse of the Kongo Kingdom in the 17th century Loango rose to power on the strength of its being a centre for the Atlantic trade with European nations that competed for enslaved Africans and other commodities. After the abolition of the slave trade in the nineteenth century the power of Loango’s mercantile elites began to decline. Intricately carved ivory tusks began to appear by the middle of the 19th century for sale as “souvenirs” to Europeans who established themselves at trading stations on the coast. Most of the tusks display a spiral register that appears to underline various popular narrative themes. Some of them show intriguing references to symbols of the Lemba trading association of pre-colonial Congo. This raises interesting questions about who made the ivories and for what purpose. In this paper I look closely at a number of Loango carved tusks in the African collection of the World Museum Liverpool and attempt to unwind the historical narrative that may have accompanied their introduction, authorship and function.

The Eastern African Ivory Trade and its global connections
Mark Horton

This paper will provide a short overview of what we actually know about the ivory trade out of East and Southern Africa from Late Antiquity until the 19th century, and how ivory was traded - in particular through the medieval and Islamic trading networks. It will draw on archaeological as well as the slender historical evidence for the ivory trade, and develop research questions which can potentially be answered through scientific analysis of extant samples.

Le Havre and the Importation and Production of Ivory in Haute-Normandy
Pierre Ickowicz

Le Havre, which became a maritime port in the 16th C, is not renowned for its ivory production. Nearby Dieppe, on the other hand, is famous as a centre for ivory carvings in France from the 17th to 19th century, in no small part due to the importation of the raw material from Africa. The existing archives at Le Havre, and those held in Departmental archives at Rouen are important sources of information about the trade routes that brought ivory into Haute-Normandy. These indicate that the trade in ivory was clearly linked to the trans-Atlantic triangular slave trade. The archival evidence can also inform us about the intensity of the trade and help with the identification of ships, captains, sailors and traders. All took part in these economical and artistic developments in the region of Haute-Normandy. The mention in the archives of ivory carvers from Le Havre suggests the existence in the 18th century of a local centre of production. Although this centre never became very important, there is still a lot to find out about the sculptors from Dieppe who have the same patronymic. The expansion of the port of Le Havre in the 19th century encouraged some ivory carvers to move there in search of greater opportunities. Despite the eventual end of the trade in ivory, carvings from Dieppe were well represented in the 1868 Universal Maritime Exhibition in Le Havre, where the ivory is still being traded.

David le Marchand 1674-1726, ‘An Ingenious Man for Carving in Ivory’
Charles Avery

Le Marchand was the most important artist in ivory that Britain has ever known. I drew attention to him in an exhibition of 1996 (Edinburgh, Leeds and London). It was organized by the British Museum; and this year I have helped the British Museum – owner of several documentary examples of his work – to acquire an unpublished masterpiece: a relief depicting a statue of Louis XIV victorious. Daringly pierced, it represents an extension to Le Marchand’s range of techniques. Interesting parallels for the unusual design have been found in France. Though Le Marchand was French, being born in Dieppe, a great centre of ivory-carving, he was Huguenot (Protestant) and so was forced to flee in 1689, arriving in Edinburgh, before moving to London. The subject of this portrait was therefore anathema to him, which raises an interesting question of patronage. Perhaps he was prevailed upon to carve it in Scotland for some Jacobite patron: after all the Stuart King James II was living in exile near Paris as a guest of Louis. I will also discuss other discoveries that extend the range of Le Marchand’s work in terms of subject-matter and technique.

Session 2 - Objects and Collections

Ivory and the Sheffield Cutlery Industry
Joan Unwin

Knives have been made in Sheffield for at least 700 years where their manufacture involved three main stages – forging the blade, grinding the edge and attaching a handle. The handles were made from animal-derived material such as ivory or horn; from exotic hardwoods; from minerals like agate and from man-made materials such as ceramics and plastics. The availability of these materials has changed over time and their relative production costs have determined their use either in the high end of the market or for mass consumption. Ivory has long been a favourite material having a dense smooth structure, taking carved detail. Its importance to the cutlery trade can be seen in the image of an elephant’s head which surmounts both the Sheffield and London Cutlers’ Companies’ coats of arms. There were cheaper alternatives to ivory, such as bone and later, laminated plastics. This paper will give an overview of knife production in Sheffield, involving the use of ivory and its replacement by plastics. It will provide examples of ivory handles in collections and the ‘everyday’ knives, which, today, many people will not realise they have.

Medieval Byzantine Ivories: A Researcher’s View
Anthousa Papagiannaki

Byzantine ivories consist mainly of plaques and triptychs with religious figures, but also include a number of secular artefacts. In their majority, the wider audience is familiar with them through glass cases in museums’ galleries. These historic ivories are not free of problems. Some of them have found their way to museum collections via private collections, some of which are of dubious reputations either regarding their authenticity, or their restorations. Some of the ivories either were, or still are in church treasuries, and a very small number of these objects have been excavated. To complicate things further, bone artefacts were thought to be of ivory. To these difficulties we should also add the lack of relevant documentation, as well as of context, which could enable us to safely date these objects. In this brief presentation, I intend to give an overview of the problems a researcher can face when studying a body of material as diverse as the Byzantine ivories, what ivory meant in the Byzantine culture, and whether science can perhaps help to answer questions on the provenance of the raw material, and subsequently offer firm conclusions on trade, or the chronology of the artefacts in question.

Early Egyptian Ivories from the Hierakonpolis ‘Main Deposit’ (c. 3100 BC)
Liam McNamara

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, has in its collection over 700 objects carved from elephant and hippopotamus ivory and bone unearthed during British excavations at Hierakonpolis (Egypt’s first capital city c. 3100 BC) in 1897–99. The corpus includes a variety of models, fragments of furniture, and human and animal statuettes. They were found as part of the ‘Main Deposit’ – a major body of votive objects cached within a sacred precinct associated with early Egyptian kingship – but the damp conditions of their discovery and their subsequent conservation mean that the majority have never been systematically studied or published. Dating individual pieces using art-historical methods is problematic; an attempt at C14-dating in 1988 proved unsuccessful, but subsequent advances in this and other techniques may offer new possibilities for analysis. Recent discoveries of comparable artefacts at sites throughout Egypt suggest widespread demand for carved ivory objects in early Egypt, while iconographic and archaeological evidence for the presence of elephants and hippopotami may suggest possible sources and means by which the raw materials were procured. This paper will introduce the Hierakonpolis ivories to a wider, non-Egyptological audience, as well as presenting some of the problems and priorities for future research on this significant corpus.

Consolidation of Carved Ivory Panels on an Egyptian Door from the Islamic
Middle Ages
Carola Schueller

The Museum of Islamic Arts in Berlin owns the right side of a two winged door from Fatimid Islamic Egypt dating from the 12th/13th century. The door is constructed of a wooden frame with intertwining geometrical strapwork holding carved polygonal boxwood and ivory panels with narrow bandings of ebony. All panels can be traced back to part of a six pointed star. The moulded strapwork and the panels hold together with groves put together. Poor storage conditions caused severe soiling, dark discoloration and degradation of both the wood and the ivory components. Only after examination under ultra violet light and a close macroscopic examination the ivory features showed. Close up images of the ivory panels will show the characteristic fluorescence, growth rings and wavy Rezius in the presentation. The loss of elasticity led to small surface cracks and splits. Further deterioration of the organic ivory components caused an increased brittleness and a powdery surface. In some areas the growth rings delaminated, in others inorganic salt crystals migrated to and covered the surface. Conservation treatment therefore aimed at the consolidation of disintegrating ivory. The stress of swelling by water or polar solvents had to be avoided. Hence it was decided to use a resin that is soluble in non polar solvents. Tests showed very good results for the acrylic resin Degalan® (former Plexigum®), an isobutyl methacrylate. It was applied in a 15% solution in purified Stoddard’s solvent. Tests also showed that the acrylic resin matched the natural sheen of the ivory. Images of the procedure and result will be presented.

Are the Palaeolithic Beads from Abri Pataud, Dordogne (~22,000 BP) made of Ivory?
Carol Vercoutère, K. Müller and I. Reiche

In association with human remains eighty two small rectangular beads were found in the archaeological level 2 of Abri Pataud (Final Gravettian; 20-22000 BP, France) excavated by H. L. Movius (Havard University) in 1958 and 1963. This leads us to infer that these beads were a mortuary deposition. It is interesting to identify the raw material used to manufacture them. Bone, ivory and antler show differences in their chemical composition, which can be used as a marker of their nature. A large data base comprising different modern and archaeological osseous materials has been established for about ten years in the C2RMF (Reiche & Müller, in prep.). As a non-invasive method was required for the study of twelve beads, micro-Proton Induced X-ray and Gamma-ray Emission (micro-PIXE/PIGE) have been performed at the particle accelerator AGLAE installed at the C2RMF, Paris. Although the beads were altered and slightly different in size, the chemical compositions determined were relatively homogeneous. In comparison with the database it seems that they were most likely made of bone or antler and not of ivory. However, other objects made of known osseous material from the same stratigraphic level of Abri Pataud will be analysed to complete these preliminary results.