Fossil Mammoth Ivory
Siberian mammoth ivory is reducing the demand for illegal elephant ivory
As the permafrost thaws in the Siberian summer months, an ancient artefact emerges from the vast Arctic tundra. They are the skeletons of woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), extinct for some 10,000 years. On the rare occasion that the tusks have survived thousands of years buried in the permafrost, Russian tusk hunters will whoop with joy, having struck white gold. Mammoth ivory is a rare and prized material that is traded in the luxury collector and artisan markets around the world, and it is helping to faze out the demand for illegal elephant ivory.
Ivory has been the material of choice for craftspeople for all human history. Favoured by knife-makers, jewellers, pen-turners, musical instrument makers, engravers, scrimshanders, watchmakers, gunsmiths, goldsmiths and sculptors, the creamy, glassy surface of polished ivory has been the source of aesthetic delight and considered a precious material without equal for hundreds of years. The demand for the luxurious material gave rise to illegal elephant poaching on the black market, pushing these beautiful animals into endangerment as a species.
That is, until now. Thirty years ago, it was only by chance on a rare occasion, that a local hunter seeking deer in the wilderness of Siberia would stumble upon the enormous bones and tusks of a mammoth, and use what they could carry in traditional crafts. But now, more and more of these long-dead creatures are being discovered and offering their long-extinct tusks so that their living cousins, elephants, can roam free and remain unmolested by poachers seeking ivory.
Arctic Antiques GmbH is a leading European importer of premium mammoth ivory. The Gouralnik family who runs the company work with nature conservationists, archaeologists and biologists in this highly regulated field and are proud to be bringing a viable, officially certified alternative to world class artisans who wish to work with ivory.
“Mammoth ivory is a far superior product, compared to illegal elephant ivory,” explains Sergey Gouralnik, the company founder’s son. “It is rarer, much older and offers an astonishing variety of colours which are simply not present in elephant ivory. Apart from the fact that mammoth ivory is legal – even though we must overcome many strict hurdles to be compliant,” (something, he says, that the company also welcomes, as it keeps the mammoth ivory trade transparent, ethical and professional.) “But, with mammoth ivory you are working with a priceless antique. You do not have to wait for it to appreciate in history and value. When you hold a piece of mammoth ivory, you have an ancient fossil in your hands which has been preserved for thousands of years in permafrost … it’s quite mind-boggling when you think about it in those terms. There is no comparison.”
Sergey explains that his clients are talented artisans, many of whom are at the top of their artistic field. They work with Arctic Antiques as their exclusive supplier of certified mammoth ivory, because the family share their passion for their art and relentless pursuit for quality. “Many of our clients have converted and adapted to working with mammoth ivory and have fallen in love with it” he says. “Not long ago many people thought that there is no alternative to elephant ivory, since no-one even thought of perfectly preserved Siberian mammoth ivory. For example, the patina of mammoth bark has much more interesting shading combined with unique surface structures. That’s the stuff the collectors are really looking for. My mission is to educate and raise awareness.” In a regulated market, the more people become aware about the existence of fossil mammoth ivory, the better it is for the survival of elephant populations.