Workshop 3 abstracts

1 – Researching Ivories – Global Perspectives

Constructing the history of Fijian whale ivory breastplates
Steven Hooper, University of East Anglia

This paper details a research theme discussed briefly in my previous paper delivered at the Horniman Museum workshop, where the high cultural value of the teeth of the sperm whale (Physeter catodon) was established for Fiji, in the past and present. During the early to middle part of the nineteenth century specialist craftsmen, working in the service of Fijian chiefs, developed elaborate chiefly regalia in the form of circular breastplates constructed of flat sections of whale ivory fixed together by a variety of means - with cordage and/or ivory/metal rivets. Breastplates could be made of ivory sections alone or of a combination of ivory and pearl shell sections. Technical aspects of construction point to the identity of these craftsmen as being Samoa- and Tonga-derived canoe builders who had moved to Fiji in the mid-late eighteenth century to exploit the fine timber to be found there. An increase in the supply of whale teeth in the nineteenth century (as a result of contact with European whalers and traders) led to an efflorescence of ivory carving. My colleague Fergus Clunie and I are endeavouring to conduct an art-historical analysis of the corpus of surviving breastplates (60+), to identify hands and/or workshops, and also a chronological sequence for the various types and techniques.

The Dutch ivory trade and craft in the 17th and 18th centuries
Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen, University of Amsterdam

In the 17th and 18th centuries, ivory was one of the most important trading commodities from Africa to the Dutch Republic. The elephant teeth were shipped in large quantities by the West India Company from western Africa to the homeland. Some of the teeth were shipped to other European countries or further, to Asia. The teeth that remained in the Dutch Republic were crafted into many objects. The ivory trade was an important stimulant for the local craft in ivory, especially for knife and comb makers. Many comb makers and knife makers were established in Amsterdam and in other large cities as well. Ivory objects became a part of daily life for different social classes and ivory was no longer a luxury material. A combination of historical and archaeological sources provides a good insight in this important trade and craft.

Contemporary & traditional use of ivory in Inuit art & artefacts
Ken Mantel, Narwhal Inuit Art Gallery, London


The Arctic, stretching from eastern Siberia through Alaska & Canada and across Greenland has been inhabited by the Inuit or their ancestors for some 5,000 years. The first known production of figurative art including the use of primarily sea mammal ivory dates to the Dorset Culture, c. 600 BCE, whilst tupilaks (small carved figures with magical properties) can be traced still further back in time in Greenland. The contemporary period of Inuit art began in the late 1940s, when the Federal government of Canada recognized the potential economic benefit to the Inuit having earlier been encouraged by the Moravian missions in Labrador to produce small ivory articles for trade. Originally the pieces were magico-religious, fetishes or fertility symbols along with utilitarian objects such as combs, sewing implements and small tools. But, when contact was established with the outside world this extended to trading of figurative and naturalistic figures as well as objects of ephemeral interest. The material used was a by-product of traditional hunting and the introduction of a blanket ban on the trade in ivory through CITES had significant effects on trading potential. However, ivory objects continue to be produced for a local market and older pieces are traded in the secondary market.

Reconstructing the biographies of ivory objects: An African case study
Paul Lane, Ashley Coutu and Steve Ashby, University of York

The idea of artefact biographies builds on, but goes beyond, the concept of sequences of production and consumption. It provides a framework to understand the diverse lifeways of artefacts, through the reconstruction of life histories or ‘cultural biographies’ of objects. Production, exchange, ownership, and use may all affect the way in which an artefact is used and understood. An object’s meaning may be built upon, transformed and manipulated throughout its life history, as it changes hands, is physically altered, and comes to be used or displayed in new contexts. The purpose of this presentation is to outline the basic principles of constructing artefact biographies, and through the use of a specific example illustrate the analytical and pedagogical potential of the approach for both academic researchers and museum curators with an interest in ivory objects.

Session 3 – Analysis and Interpretation

The use of ivory in Palaeolithic art
Jill Cook & Clare Ward, British Museum

Some of the rarest and most remarkable carvings and sculptures of the last Ice Age (38,000-10,000 years ago) are made of mammoth ivory. These works include three dimensional reductions of the diameter of the tusk, as well as ornaments produced on pieces of lamellae. This paper will introduce both types before describing recent research on a 13,500 year old carving of a pair of reindeer from Monstastruc, France. This case study highlights the method of manufacture and the problems posed for curation and conservation.

Ivory Identification: A step by step guide
Sonia O’Connor, University of Bradford

When ivories are little modified from their natural state, identification may be straightforward; however, identification of heavily worked or degraded material is problematic. Original morphology may have been completely removed and physical properties altered by manufacturing processes. The aging and degradation of these materials can bring about further changes making differentiation challenging. Approaches to the identification of objects made in elephant, hippopotamus, walrus and sperm whale ivory will be illustrated.

Innovations and Ivory: Easy roots to analysis
Martin Morlidge, STFC Innovations, Daresbury

The Innovations Technology Access Centre (I-TAC) based at Daresbury in Warrington, is a root into the Science and Technology Facilities Councils portfolio of world leading scientific expertise, equipment facilities and the associated network of academic collaborators. The development of a Heritage Science Unit within I-TAC gives research into the area of Ivory access to a team of researches ready to see how by developing new and novel technology and techniques to answer the needs of the newly invigorated Heritage Science Community. I-TAC has a range of standard laboratory analytical equipment and can gain access to a larger analytical network. The key area would be how we can bring this technology and ready access to the needs of the researching Ivory group and to answer specific questions that are born though the conversations at this meeting.

Raman Spectroscopy and the Molecular Characterisation of Ivory: Forensic Analytical Challenges for Contraband Detection
Howell Edwards, University of Bradford

The advantages of Raman spectroscopic characterisation of modern and ancient natural biomaterials such as ivories rests upon an analytical non-destructive protocol which does not require the chemical or mechanical pre-treatment of the specimen. Molecular information about the composition of the organic component in the inorganic hydroxyapatite matrix is readily available and can be used with appropriate chemometrics to ascribe the ivory specimen to a particular animal species. In this presentation, the theoretical basis of the Raman effect will be followed by specific examples of its application in areas of archaeological, museum and forensic science for the identification of genuine ivories, ivory fragments from excavations, fake ivories and contraband seizures from HM Customs and Revenue CITES teams. Some of the particular challenges facing the interpretation of the Raman spectroscopic data derived from archaeological ivories and from the detection of ivories that have been disguised to escape the attention of security and law enforcement agencies will be described through case studies from our archives. Finally, evaluation will be made of portable instrumentation for the detection and characterisation of ivories in the field.