Marvels of Materials: Authored by Doug Braun, Binghamton University


Ivory, prized for its workability, was an extremely valued material within Egypt and the ancient world as a whole. The Egyptians sourced their ivory from hippopotamuses, which are native to the Nile Delta, and elephants, which had widespread populations across Africa and Asia. Egyptians mainly obtained their elephant ivory from the savannahs of southern Nubia (modern Sudan) or from Punt, on Africa’s Red Sea coast. With connections to Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as their own local supply of hippo ivory, Egyptians became the middle-men of the ivory trade in the Mediterranean, with production peaking in the 18th Dynasty (1550-1292 BCE). Hippo ivory, while more durable, was less workable, and also had a natural curvature, making it ideal for making wands for ritual use, while more malleable elephant ivory was used for making objects ranging from inlays to vessels.


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