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Ivory is the tusks of elephants or mammoth (fossil ivory). But also tusks of hippos, walrus or other whale species are called ivory in the broadest sense. The tusks consist of dentin, which grows out of the upper jaw. Tooth enamel is not present.

Investigations on fossil ivory provide information about the spatial and temporal distribution of mammoth and thus conclusions about the climatic conditions at past times. Because of its rarity and preciousness, ivory was considered valuable in all cultures and is therefore a witness to human creativity and activity in archaeological investigations.

Ivory analysis are mainly carried out for the preparation of CITES trade permits (CITES certificates). To prevent uncontrollable trade in protected and endangered species, the “Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild Fauna and Flora” (CITES) was adopted in 1973. Depending on the classification of the respective species in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), trade is either completely prohibited or is only possible with a special permit. With the EU Regulation No. 338/97 (amendment: (EC) 865/06) CITES was also implemented in the EU on March 3, 1997. Elephants and parts of elephants are listed in Annex A of the EU regulation, which means that there is a general marketing ban. Accordingly, marketing is only permitted with a special permit from the respective authority (in Germany, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation – BnF – for EU import/export and the state authorities for intra-EU trade). An exception to the marketing ban exists for antiques (processed products from before 01.06.1947) or pre-convention specimens (acquisition took place before the first protection status under CITES, i.e. between 1947 and 1975). Often no ownership or acquisition documents exist for these objects, so that an age determination (14C dating) must be carried out. Proof of age is always required for trade between the EU and third countries.

For the exact 14C age determination of tusks (for CITES) it may be necessary to analyze two samples. Due to the above-ground atomic-bomb tests in the 1960s, the atmospheric 14C signal was strongly disturbed. As a rule, a 14C analysis yields two possible calendar ages during this era – one before and one after 1964. The year 2000, for example, cannot be distinguished from 1960. Since tusks grow a few centimeters per year, two analyses on 2 samples that are 3-5cm apart in the direction of growth can resolve this ambiguity.

Sample properties

Archaeological material is treated like bone material and should have a sample size of about 1 g – preferably as a single piece.

For modern material used for age determination (regarding CITES), approx. 50 – 100 mg is sufficient, since no collagen is extracted. There should not be any material from the surface of the tusk, as it is heavily contaminated. If a sample can only be taken by drilling and as drill powder, please send in more material, as a larger loss is to be expected during sample pretreatment. Please contact the laboratory if the sample quantities are considerably smaller.