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type of dentin present only in the tusks of the elephantelephant,
largest living land mammal, found in tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Elephants have massive bodies and heads, thick, pillarlike legs, and broad, short padded feet, with toes bearing heavy, hooflike nails. The gray skin is loose, tough, thick, and nearly hairless.
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. Ivory historically has been obtained mainly from Africa, where elephant tusks are larger than they are in Asia, the second major source, and much dead ivory was and continues to be taken from remains of extinct mammoths found in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. African tusks of about 55 lb (25 kg) each are common, although tusks of more than 200 lb (91 kg) have been recorded.

In commerce, ivory is classified as live (from recently killed animals) and dead (tusks long stored or on the ground for extended periods and lacking the resilience of live ivory). Ivory may be of a soft or hard variety; the former type is more moist, cracks less easily than the brittle hard ivory, and is easier to work. In the West, soft ivory, obtainable primarily from the eastern half of Africa, was preferred to the hard variety from W Africa. Green, or guinea, ivory denotes certain types of ivory obtained from a wide belt in north central Africa, from the east to the west coasts. At various periods in Africa, native peoples, Arabs, and European colonial powers dominated the trade (now banned) in ivory. Zanzibar, Antwerp, London, and Hong Kong have been major centers of ivory commerce.

Natural substitutes (e.g., taguatagua
, fruit of the ivory, or ivory-nut, palms (Phytelephas species), which flourish in tropical America from Paraguay to Panama. The female palms bear large woody, burrlike fruits, each containing several seeds about the size of hen's eggs in P. macrocarpa.
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, or vegetable ivory) for ivory or near equivalents have long been used. The tooth structure of many other animals, such as the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, sperm whale, and wild boar, is also often called ivory.

Uses of Ivory

Ivory is prized for its close-grained texture, adhesive hardness, mellow color, and pleasing smoothness. It may be painted or bleached, and is an excellent material for carving. Large surfaces suitable for veneer are obtained by cutting spiral sheets around the tusk. Commercial uses of ivory include the manufacture of piano and organ keys, billiard balls, handles, and minor objects of decorative value. In modern industry, ivory is used in the manufacture of electrical appliances, including specialized electrical equipment for airplanes and radar.

Its use in art dates back to prehistoric times, when representations of animals were incised on tusks. Objects in ivory were created in ancient Egypt, Assyria, Crete, Mycenae, Greece, and Italy, and there are many biblical references to its use at least from the time of Solomon. Large Greek statues, such as the Athena of PhidiasPhidias
or Pheidias
, c.500–c.432 B.C., Greek sculptor, one of the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece. No original in existence can be attributed to him with certainty, although numerous Roman copies in varying degrees of supposed fidelity exist.
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, were made in gold and ivory (chryselephantine), and the Romans made lavish use of ivory in furniture, implements of war, and decorative items. A considerable number of diptychs and panels in ivory, given as gifts primarily by Roman consuls, still exist. Ivory plaques, diptychs, boxes, liturgical objects, book covers, and small statues were made in great numbers from early Christian times until c.1400, but the production of these objects declined thereafter. Ivory carving was practiced both in W Europe and in the Byzantine Empire. In India, ivory carving and turning has been done from ancient times. In China and Japan ivory has been used for inlay and small objects, especially for statues and carvings of small size and great precision and beauty of detail. In the last few centuries in Europe and North America, ivory has been employed to decorate furniture, for small statues, and occasionally as a surface for miniature painting.

The Threat to Elephants

The diminishing number of elephants, to a large extent the result of wholesale slaughter for tusks, and the resulting increased cost of ivory have encouraged the making of imitations and the use of natural substitutes. One strategy for controlling the slaughter of elephants for their ivory is to permit a regulated trade that would reduce poaching and provide profit to Africans, but not deplete the elephant population. A ban of the ivory trade, with some limited exceptions, by countries that supply and consume ivory has been in effect since 1989. Despite this ban, the ivory trade has continued illegally in a number of producing and consuming countries, with demand especially strong in China (the legal trade there officially ended in 2017 but the much larger illegal trade continues), leading to increasingly devastating effects on elephant populations in the 21st cent. The illegal trade also has contributed to political instability, with rebel groups using it to fund their operations.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the tooth substance, or dentin, that composes the tusks of elephants (African elephant, Indian elephant, and mastodon). Ivory is a valuable manufacturing material. Durable and homogeneous, it is characteristically white with a yellowish cast. Ivory yields well to carving, grinding, and polishing; after plasticization it can be bent, so that it can be formed into sheets up to 0.4 m wide. The best-quality ivory is exported from Africa (tusks reaching a length of 3 m and a weight of 100 kg) and India (tusks reaching a length of 2.5 m long and a weight of 75 kg). Ivory is highly valued on the international market.

In the USSR many mastodon tusks have been found in northeastern Siberia in layers of permafrost. Since ancient times ivory has been used to make ornaments, as well as objects for everyday and religious use. Ivory is also used in industry. The teeth of sperm whales and the tusks of narwhals and walruses may be used as ivory.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The ivory-white material composing the tusks and teeth of the elephant; specific gravity is 1.87; takes a high polish and is used for ornamental parts and art objects, and formerly for piano keys.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


soap 99.44% pure. [Trademarks: Crowley Trade, 289]
See: Purity
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a. a hard smooth creamy white variety of dentine that makes up a major part of the tusks of elephants, walruses, and similar animals
b. (as modifier): ivory ornaments
2. a tusk made of ivory
a. a yellowish-white colour; cream
b. (as adjective): ivory shoes
4. black ivory Obsolete Black slaves collectively


James. born 1928, US film director. With the producer Ismael Merchant, his films include Shakespeare Wallah (1964), Heat and Dust (1983), A Room With a View (1986), and The Golden Bowl (2000)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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