Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter February 7, 2008

Elephant bone or elephant tusk? A simple method of distinguishing between the two in Byzantine art

Marina G. Papademetriou
From the journal


Modern elephant tusk is compared with Byzantine plaques as regards the surface microstructure by means of macrophotography. We are thus able to illustrate the differences between elephant bone and elephant tusk, whereas many exhibitions and publications wrongly refer to ivory as elephant bone. It is not uncommon in Greek and German literature to confuse elephant bone with elephant tusk. Bone is porous and white, whereas ivory is yellowish and compact with characteristic dentine structural lines. The structural lines of dentine in plates made of organic mineralized tissues are diagnostic features of ivory that conclusively differentiate it from elephant bone. Dentine is also more compact than bone. Unlike bone, which is inexpensive and common, ivory is expensive and rare in keeping with the stature, wealth and power of Byzantine Emperors.

Published Online: 2008-02-07
Published in Print: 2004-October

© 2004 by K. G. Saur Verlag GmbH, München und Leipzig

Downloaded on 7.12.2022 from
Scroll Up Arrow