My woolly mammoth ivory

I own a few bits of woolly mammoth ivory. Although the sale of ivory from elephants is restricted and highly controversial, woolly mammoth ivory is unrestricted and provokes few worries.

That’s because elephants are listed as threatened with extinction by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and despite conservation efforts, illegal trade continues. Woolly mammoths, however, went extinct about 10,000 years ago. No mammoths are killed to obtain ivory because they’re already dead, so woolly mammoth ivory remains relatively easy to buy and somewhat affordable.

My ivory came from Alaska, and I bought it from a jeweler. He had bought a piece of tusk that came with a bark-like crust, the result of thousands of years of aging, which he’d stripped off and was selling for 25 cents per gram, since he had no use for it.

I’m still deciding what to do with it. It looks a lot like tree bark but feels and weighs more like stone, since it’s basically a mineral that our bodies can produce: a tooth. I’m thinking of using it to make jewelry that puts its rough aesthetics to artistic advantage.

I bought the ivory because a woolly mammoth plays a role in my novel Immunity Index — specifically, a mammoth recreated by genetic engineering. While the novel largely deals with other issues, it mentions a few of the problems with mammoth de-extinction. For example, mammoths, like elephants, led highly social lives. If we want to bring them back humanely, we need to bring back many large herds of them. In the book, that wasn’t done.


A trade paperback edition of novel Immunity Index, goes on sale May 17. Read an excerpt here. Read a different excerpt here.

Reader review: “Already a fan after the fascinating Semiosis books but this one was even tighter. Set in the middle of the confusion of a pandemic, misinformation, helplessness, and a civil uprising, and yet manages to be wholesome and uplifting. 5 star”

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