discussion / Wildlife Crime  / 17 August 2018

Workshop: Ivory Identification, Cambridge UK

When: 9:00- 5:30 Sep 21, 2018 

Where: Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge

Contact: James H. Barrett

Attendees: Although a free event, pre-registration (by email: [email protected]) is essential

Add event to calendar: vCal / iCal

The Ivory Identification 2018 event, led by Dr Sonia O’Connor (overview and terrestrial mammals) and Dr James H. Barrett (sea mammals), will be held at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.

Combining presentations and practicals, raw materials and finished objects, this one-day workshop will teach the basics of ivory identification using optical methods. At a time of intense concern regarding the fate of the world’s ivory-yielding animals, and deepening understanding of the antiquity of global ivory trade, the event is offered free-of-charge to student and professional archaeologists, archaeological scientists, conservation biologists, museum curators and conservators.

Sonia O'Connor, of the Universities of Bradford and York, is one of Britain's leading experts in the optical identification of ivory and osseous tissues.

James H. Barrett, of the University of Cambridge, studies ecological globalisation and historical ecology. He is a specialist in the medieval trade of northern products, including walrus and whale ivory.  


Thanks for posting @StephODonnell . Do you happen to know if remote participation is feasible for community members not in Cambridge, and if workshop materials can be shared?


Sarah Gluszek
Fauna & Flora
Senior Technical Specialist, Wildlife Trade


I went to this workshop, led by Sonia O'Connor and James Barrett, and I would recommend it. Both Sonia and James have many years of experience identifying ivories (including elephant, hippo, walrus, mammoth, narwhal, sperm whale etc..), ivory substitutes (such as vegetable ivory, a type of nut), ivory imitations (e.g. bones) and ivory fakes (e.g. plastics). Sonia in particular has worked with CITES and is keen on training more people working in IWT.

A few interesting messages taken from the session:
- having physical identification as the first step before more complex analysis, such as DNA testing, is more cost and time-effective and can aid front line law enforcement.
- ivory often refers to elephant tusks, but it essentially includes all forms of teeth.
- ivory patterning varies between species.
- the same material can look different depending on what's happened to it.
- identification errors can be made between young elephant tusks and hippo canines (they look really similar!).
- deliberate ageing of ivory, e.g. through staining, can be obvious from the dark colour.
- elephant ivory could be dimpled to make it look like walrus ivory.
- a worked piece of ivory, e.g. a figurine, could be made of a combination of different ivories (elephant, hippo etc.) and/or bone.
- some Japanese carvers have turned to using vegetable ivory as an ethical alternative to elephant ivory.
- over time, ivory and plastic discolour very differently.
- UV lights don't always help to ID between ivory and plastic, as some plastics are florescent!