The Process of Preserving Ivory

The beauty of an elephant ivory lies on its smoothness, durability and the white opaque appearance of intersecting line with a diamond shape between them. An ivory also fluoresce a bright blue when exposed to ultraviolet light.

A unique substance, ivory is classified as both organic and inorganic. The inorganic components are mineralized tissues, which can be attributed to ivorys strength and durability. Meanwhile, the organic components are collagen proteins, which help in growth and repair.

In other Asian countries, ivory is a significant aspect of traditional art. It was used in carving religious items and ornament figurines. Such importance of ivory is worth the care and conservation.

In some laboratories, ivory is recovered from the ocean. This kind of ivory deteriorates much faster than ivories recovered on land. This is because ivory is porous. The deterioration is accelerated by its exposure to seawater. It can absorb soluble salts easilyhigh salt concentration in seawater is determinant in preserving the ivory. That is why ivory requires special treatment to become stable when it is exposed to salty water.

Salts crystallize and expand when the ivory dries. The expanding crystals create pressure within the structure of the ivory. This causes the ivory to crack or delaminate. So in removing the salts, ivory should be rinsed in a several water baths that slowly progress from fresh to distilled water. Most of the time, this process takes several weeks or months. The duration depends on the size and thickness of the ivory.

Before an ivory is being removed from its bath, it is important to know its hygroscopic characteristic. This means, an ivory absorbs and releases moisture as a result of changing conditions in its surrounding environment. The adaptive mechanism of an ivory will cause it to swell or shrink. Sometimes in extreme conditions, it will crack or warp.

In cases when ivory has a thin layer of concretion on its surface, there is greater possibility of reduction in its aesthetic value. But this thin layer is not actually harmful to ivory. The layer can obstruct crucial diagnostic and ornamental features.

Though concretion can be chemically removed with acid, the most preferable method is mechanical removal. But ivory can be easily damaged by acid. The mechanical removal on the other hand involves carefully picking off the concretion using a sharp tool.

Further, ivory is susceptible to staining such as iron stains. These are mostly seen in ivory recovered from underwater archaeological sites. Other iron artifacts associated with sunken ships are the cause of these stains. In this case, special bleaching solutions are prepared and applied to specific locations of stains to remove them.

To prevent an ivory to completely delaminate, an ivory is immersed in a special adhesive that will strengthen and consolidate the separating layers.

Under normal circumstances, an ivory should be placed in storage with a temperature not higher than 25C or 72F. It should not be exposed under an ultraviolet light more than 75 micro-watts/lumen. An ivory should be kept from exterior walls and windows.

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