Walrus ivory

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Walrus tusk ivory comes from two modified upper canines. The tusks of a Pacific walrus may attain a length of one meter. Walrus teeth are also commercially carved and traded. The average walrus tooth has a rounded, irregular peg shape and is approximately 5cm in length.

The tip of a walrus tusk has an enamel coating which is worn away during the animal's youth. Fine longitudinal cracks, which appear as radial cracks in cross-section, originate in the cementum and penetrate the dentine. These cracks can be seen throughout the length of the tusk. Whole cross-sections of walrus tusks are generally oval with widely spaced indentations. The dentine is composed of two types: primary dentine and secondary dentine (often called osteodentine). Primary dentine has a classical ivory appearance. Secondary dentine looks marble or oatmeal-like.

Walrus ivory carving and engraving has been an important folk art for people of the Arctic since prehistoric times, among them the Inuit (Inupiaq and Yupik) of Greenland and North America and the Chukchi and Koryak of Russia. The Chukchi and Bering Sea Yupik in particular continue to produce ivory. During Soviet times, several walrus carving collectives were established in villages in Chukotka, notably Uelen. International trade is, however, somewhat restricted by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

The folk art of walrus ivory carving has been popular in European Russia since the Middle Ages, with notable schools of walrus ivory carving in Kholmogory and Tobolsk. The Norse also carved items in walrus ivory, notably the Lewis chessmen.

See also

Ivory trade

References


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