Woolly Mammoths

May 5, 2009 at 03:14 PM ·

My colleague was proudly displaying his new snakewood double bass bow at work today. It has a screw decorated with mastodon. We all looked at him incredulously as he explained that mastodon is mammoth tusk ivory dug up in the Canadian tundra.  Now surely that is a finite resource.  Does any one know anything about it? I would have thought that farming elephants might be easier.

I suggested putting a flame to it to see if it wasn't just plastic.  He wasn't very happy with that suggestion. It was a beautiful looking bow.

Replies (28)

May 5, 2009 at 06:51 PM ·

In 1990 a world-wide trade  ban was placed on ivory  due to the slaughter of elephants for the harvesting of their tusks ...mammoth ivory and fossilized walrus are the now only legal sources  to obtain ivory


May 5, 2009 at 03:42 PM ·

Of course the number of petrified mastodons is finite, which never stopped people from assuming the opposite.  On the other hand, you can make a whole bunch of expensive widgets from a tusk or two if you keep them small.  For several years it has been possible to buy guitar nuts and saddles made from mastodon ivory, the theory being that they are somehow more dense, more musical etc.  The extent to which the supply of mastodon ivory is legal seems to me to be open to question; we read, for example, that timber theft from Siberia is supplying great quantities of wood to China, and presumably other traffic is as loose.  For most of us the violin problem has more to do with our own bodies than with those of ancient elephants.

May 5, 2009 at 03:42 PM ·

Here's a site that has them:


May 5, 2009 at 05:12 PM ·

There are  more mammoth tusks being found in the Arctic than one would think. As rivers change course and the permafrost melts tusks get exposed and Native Americans find the ends sticking out of the old river banks. I'm sure the arctic warming is a factor. It's pretty available but varies wildly in quality.

The reason ivory was a prized material for craftsmen since way before Ramses is it's unfortunate beauty, homogeneity , and durability. It was nature's plastic before phenolic resin and used for things like billiard balls as well as ornaments. Victorian gentlemen were fond of turning it on Holtzapffel lathes into fantastic ornamental objects since it was the perfect material  for the purpose. As a craftsman's material it is somewhere between the densest wood and soapstone. Mammoth ivory when it is not too cracked or coffee colored is a way of achieving most of ivories benefits without encouraging the slaughter of the remaining wild elephants. Forensic scientists for the Customs Office can easily tell the difference by the angles of the cross hatching patterns in the annual rings which end grain tusks of both species contain. I make my white rings from it and charged accordingly, since reaming it to fit a peg shaft can give one blisters. I'm glad to have it handy to recreate the look of old Hill fittings without breaking the law or my sense of propriety.

I would not be in the least upset by it's use as an elephant substitute. The mastodons and mammoths living in large herds all over the world are long gone. The people who are dealing in it are not those who deal in elephant. I would however be very concerned in the offering of turtle shell frogs in the web site given in the previous post. If they came out of the sea they are, as far as I know, from a very endangered species and very illegal to harvest or sell. There was a huge business in tortoise shell  combs and other items until plastic took over and we have managed to marginalize them to near extinction.

May 5, 2009 at 07:21 PM ·

I do not want to set a fight I just wonder if it happens that they pass real ivory (since sadly many elephants are still illegally kiled each year) and tell it's mastodon...   I don't know a thing in this but I know there is still a huge illegal market for real ivory.


May 5, 2009 at 08:09 PM ·

It's a Mamoth undertaking grasshopper!

May 5, 2009 at 08:18 PM ·

I don't  care what anyone else says.  It is not warmer in the arctic.  If it is, I got some nice beach front property up here for sale.  You can go dig up your own ivory, but you can't keep it unless you're native.

May 5, 2009 at 08:41 PM ·

Walrus ivory can only be harvested by Native Americans and can't even be sold by them unless it is carved. Mastodons and Mammoths are extinct therefore there is no reason  to protect their tusks.

There is no reason to pass off elephant ivory as mastodon since elephant ivory is worth more money regardless of it's illegality. As you said, unfortunately there is a huge black market in elephant ivory. Mastodon ivory is both easy to tell from elephant in raw form and totally legal to buy and work. There is really no cross over that I have ever seen in the legal mammoth ivory market and the illegal elephant ivory market. There is no reason to buy elephant ivory disguised as mastodon or vise versa, and you won't find those selling one selling the other.  

May 5, 2009 at 10:24 PM ·


does anyone actually know how to petrify a mastadon?   Aside from putting 100 hours of Osmond hits on its ipod I really have no idea...



May 5, 2009 at 10:28 PM ·

As an Inupiaq Alaskan Native, we do find Mastodon and mammoth ivory, but not that all often to be quite honest. My uncle found a whole tusk, they sell for thousands, but it was not sold. They are pretty rare, you just don't take a boat ride walk on the beach and find a mammoth tusk as much as you find other animals from the same period. We did find a mastodon tooth bigger than your fist, but no ivory. In my honest opinion not so common.  

May 6, 2009 at 02:59 AM ·

"does anyone actually know how to petrify a mastadon?"

Yes. Make him play 9-12 in Shostakovich 5 for an audition, without his beta blockers . No warming up, a triple mochachino and a chile dog just before going on stage. And hand him someone else's violin.

May 6, 2009 at 06:30 AM ·


from `tusker` to `busker`in one short career crash in fact.



May 6, 2009 at 03:08 PM ·

Scott, if you think about it, if the mastodon drops the chili dog you get a mastodon with mustodon,:)

May 6, 2009 at 11:31 PM ·


Mitchell, you deserve the best pun award

1o.gif (3294 bytes)

May 6, 2009 at 10:08 PM ·

Tsk, Tsk, Mitchell. 

Don't worry, I have an entire trunk full of puns.

They're mostly Dumbo, though. 

May 6, 2009 at 10:22 PM ·


a poem in the style of ee Cummings.

Must I don

A Mastodon

With mustard on

To matserdon Giovanni?



May 6, 2009 at 11:28 PM ·

Scott, Scott, Scott, you missed the blatantly obvious...instead of Tsk,Tsk Mitchell..you should have said

Tusk, Tusk, Mitchell

May 7, 2009 at 01:21 AM ·

And I thought my T-Rex hide thumb leather on the frog was unusual.

May 7, 2009 at 03:13 AM ·


I wrote "tusk" originally--thought it was too obvious.


May 7, 2009 at 08:11 PM ·

BTW--everyone realizes that mastodons and woolly mammoths are two different species, right? 

May 7, 2009 at 09:18 PM ·


I'm now up to date

 on their frigid stiff state

could the info now get any stranger

a browser for one, the other a grazer  

but they both  got in the way of the glacier

Mastodon = darker than elephant ivory, with an ecru or dark cream color

May 7, 2009 at 08:26 PM ·

I vory about you sometimes... 

May 7, 2009 at 08:43 PM ·



May 8, 2009 at 12:18 PM ·

So when traveling with a bow of this mastadon ivory you would keep it in the, "Trunk" ?

May 8, 2009 at 01:30 PM ·

not on your Nelly! 

May 8, 2009 at 01:50 PM ·

Royce, to answer your question...

not necessarily, but you definitely should pachy the bow carefully and securely


May 8, 2009 at 05:01 PM ·

Derm it, Sam, you're pretty good.

May 11, 2009 at 07:34 PM ·

It's spring, and this topic makes me think of romance:

Violinists DONT

German violinists Kant

Violists  shouldn't

Cellists sure would like to Popper (if they could find their end pins...)

But pachyderms surely Musth


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