Opaque, creamy- white, hard, fine-grained, modified dentine that composes the upper incisor teeth (tusks) of elephants. Ivory is composed of layers of dentine, alternating in shade, which intersect one another; the resulting lozenge shaped structure is highly elastic and finely grained. The layers of an elephant's tusk are deposited from the pulp, so that the innermost layer is the newest. The base of the tusk, which is imbedded in the skull, is filled with pulp at the widest part. The pulp cavity becomes progressively narrower toward the tip of the tusk, ending as a minute, threadlike channel.

Most commercial elephant ivory is obtained from the tusks of the African elephant. Elephants formerly roamed all over Africa south of the northern desert region, but the encroachment of civilization has driven them into the interior. The primary sources of ivory are eastern and central Africa, especially Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Most of the ivory of the western half of Africa is hard, whereas that from the eastern part is soft. Hard ivory is relatively glassier in texture, more difficult to cut, and more susceptible to cracking than soft ivory. The largest ivory tusks are 9 feet long and weigh about 225 pounds. The value of ivory depends on the size and condition of the tusks. Standard commercial grades are based primarily on weight.

Less than one quarter of commercial ivory is obtained from freshly killed elephants; the remainder is obtained from collections made by natives from the carcasses of elephants that died natural deaths. The principal ivory markets are Antwerp, London, and Liverpool.

Fossil ivory, called odontolite, is a blue variety found in small quantities in the frozen soils of northern Siberia. The ivory was produced by the extinct mammoths of the Pleistocene geological epoch; its blue color results from saturation by metallic salts. The art of carving ivory for ornamental or useful purposes has been practiced from prehistoric to modern times.

Magic & Myth

Ivory is said to protect the physical body from injury. It is also believed that ivory offers spiritual protection.