Conservation and restoration of ivory objects

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Conservation of ivory)
Jump to: navigation, search

Ivory carving is a decorative art or craft practised since prehistoric times. Its conservation is concerned particularly with the environmental causes of deterioration.


Ivory is the term for the tusks and teeth of mammals including the elephant, hippopotamus, warthog, wild boar, walrus, narwhal, and mammoth. Elephant ivory comprises up to 55% inorganic matter - mainly calcium phosphate, as well as magnesium phosphate and calcium carbonate - the remainder consisting of the organic protein dentine.[1][2]


Ivory is hygroscopic and anisotropic, tending to shrink, swell, crack, split, and/or warp on exposure to extremes or fluctuations in relative humidity and temperature, It is subject to photolytic colour change. Its organic compounds decompose by hydrolysis with prolonged exposure to water, while its inorganic compounds are attacked by acids. Deteriorated ivory in particular is porous, brittle, and prone to impact damage and delamination. Many conservation problems are caused by previous conservation treatments such as incompatible and degraded coatings, adhesives, and attempts at reconstruction.[2][3][4]

Technical examination[edit]

Inspection in visible and ultraviolet light, optical microscopy, x-radiography, and scanning electron microscopy to reveal cell structure, may be used to identify the species used, advance understanding of the techniques employed by the craftsman, and reveal deterioration phenomena. Instrumental analysis may also be used to identify pigments and binders for polychrome ivories, as well as undocumented conservation materials from previous interventions.[4][5]

Preventive conservation[edit]

Ivory should be stored and displayed out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat. Inert display cases may be used to buffer against environmental fluctuations. Lighting levels should also be limited, especially for polychrome ivories. Ivories should be protected against contact with liquids and other staining materials[3][4] such as corroded metals.[6]


Especially in archaeological contexts, interventive treatment may in some cases be considered necessary. Such intervention is governed by conservation ethics, in particular the principles of reversibility and minimum intervention. Possible treatments include the reduction of salts to prevent further deterioration, and the consolidation of delaminating and friable components. Any treatment should be undertaken by a conservation professional.[2][3][4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mills, John S.; White, Raymond (1994). The Organic Chemistry of Museum Objects. Butterworth-Heinemann. p. 66. ISBN 0-7506-4693-4. 
  2. ^ a b c Ward, Gerald W. R. (ed.) (2008). The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art. Oxford University Press. pp. 299–301. ISBN 978-0-19-531391-8. 
  3. ^ a b c "The Care and Handling of Ivory Objects". Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d Simpson, St John (2011). "Conservation and scientific research". The Begram Hoard: Indian Ivories from Afghanistan. The British Museum. pp. 30–35. ISBN 978-0-7141-1178-0. 
  5. ^ Ward, Gerald W. R. (ed.) (2008). The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art. Oxford University Press. p. 667. ISBN 978-0-19-531391-8. 
  6. ^ Care of Ivory, Bone, Horn, and Antler, Canadian Conservation Institute

Further reading[edit]