How To Clean Elk Ivory

elk in field

The eyeteeth of an elk, also referred to as buglers and whistlers, are vestigial tusks. These teeth typically protrude from the mandible on either side of the lower canines. Once harvested, these teeth require careful and delicate cleaning to remove all traces of dirt or other contaminants. The process involves a long soak in an ammonia bath followed by gentle scrubbing with a toothbrush and running water.

Step By Step Elk Ivory Cleaning Guide

1) Fill a container with cold water and ammonia to answer the depth of one inch. Soak the tooth for two hours at room temperature, periodically allowing bubbles to resurface. The bubbles indicate the ammonia is working and that dirt is being dissolved. After two hours, remove the tooth.

2) Scrub the tooth gently with a soft toothbrush under running water. Be sure to scrub the entire tooth, including under any ridges.

3) Soak in cold water overnight. The following day, scrub once again under running water until you can see no more dirt. The tooth should be clean and white.

4) Soak the tooth in cold water for one additional day. Upon removal, you should notice that the water is a clear yellow color. The tooth is now clean and in prime condition for display or crafting.

History of using elk ivory

The earliest documented use of elk ivory was around 6000 years ago. This is when prehistoric people used it in a variety of ways. Mammoths were seen as sacred and must be respected at all times, so bones were set aside as grave goods with the teeth attached and placed in the mouth cavities of statues and vessels. In ancient Europe, ivory came from both mammoths and elk, but because these animals were common in Eurasia they had little significance.

The Celtic people of Western Europe were the first to use elk ivory on a large scale. They carved these objects from the large lower canines, but they didn’t believe in killing mammoths or cutting them up. They simply used them, seeing them as gifts from the gods. There is no evidence that they used this material for working or crafting, but its use continued for centuries until it was eventually replaced by other materials.

The only region in which elk ivory was used for tools and weapons was among the Inuit, or Eskimos, of Northern America. They carved objects from the teeth and tusks of slain elk and other animals. They often decorated these objects with animal figures, such as whales, seals, bears, walruses and polar bears. This tradition continues to the present day among some Native American tribes, albeit on a much smaller scale.

During the Middle Ages, many nobles and royals would make elk ivory objects as status symbols. These included combs, hairpins, buttons and even chess pieces. The earliest chess pieces were found in the ruins of a 6th century Chinese palace. They were beautifully carved pieces, meant to be used in an Agra game called Chaupar. In this game, people threw sticks at a target board that was set up about 50 yards away from them. The person whose stick landed closest to the bull’s eye would win the game.

Modern Uses

At present, elk ivory is used in very few consumer items. Most elk ivory today is carved into fancy pieces like art carvings and chess sets. It can also be used for knife handles, grips for hunting guns and knives and other small utensils. It has a reputation as being one of the best materials to make billiard ball tips, although this is not true because it isn’t hard enough. In most of these items, though, the ivory is used in combination with other materials.


The above is the correct way to clean elk ivory. It is a complex process that should be followed at all times, even if you are considering cleaning your own teeth. The fact that the process is carried out under running water between each step also allows for easy cleaning with harsh soaps and detergents.

Written by Fred

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