African Ivory

The only source for Ivory in Africa is from elephants. For centuries elephant ivory has been prized and has often been intricately carved as in the picture above. The elephant population in Africa is declining at an alarming rate and the ivory trade has a lot to do with this demise because of the high level of demand.

The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, has a resource page up on African ivory.In an effort to educate the general public, art collectors, and specialists this webpage includes written and photographic information on how to identify elephant ivory and its substitutes, descriptions of the laws and regulations of its trade and a selected bibliography.  Originally conceived to accompany the National Museum of African Art’s 2008 Treasures exhibit of ivory masterworks, the pamphlet: “Ivory: Identification and Regulation of a Precious Material” is now accessible as a PDF file via the Museum’s website at

Stephanie Hornbeck, former conservator at the National Museum of African Art, researched and wrote the document with research and outreach assistance from her NMAfA colleague Jessica Levin Martinez, Educator for Scholarly Programs.

Christine Mullen, the deputy Director and Chief Curator of the National Museum of Africa Art states that the information in this .pdf file will be of interest to specialists as well as the general public and it should be freely shared with friends and colleagues.

Academic paper: Political sources of ethnic identification in Africa Africa IMF Reports : Ivory Coast 2010 Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art Free Conference: Thinking across the African Past – Archaeological, Linguistic and Genetic Research on Precolonial African History Mali : West African Masquerade

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