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Curing a large mammoth tusk?

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AlaskaExplorations

I work at a small placer (gold) mine in the interior of Alaska, and we routinely find mammoth ivory. Sometimes just small pieces, sometimes complete tusks. I have purchased one from my employer, and try as I might, I have been unable to find any information on curing, or drying, the tusk before treating with butvar-76 or similar. 

 

This tusk is over nine feet long, weighs 85#, and is a beautiful specimen from a mature female wooly mammoth. The bark is a rich mahogany color, mottled with blue and ivory patches. It is obviously worth a small fortune, and I would like to preserve it as best as possible.

 

Other tusks I have seen, will crack and deform as they dry. I want to minimize this as much as possible. I have heard of techniques such as banding with hose clamps, wrapping with burlap and keeping moist, even burying for a period of time, or a combination of these. What have others done with large tusks? How much moisture is acceptable before treating with acetone and butvar-76? Will the solution draw out moisture from deep inside the tusk, or will that water remain trapped there?

 

This one has been out of the ground for less than two weeks. 

 

Thanks for any help!

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Here's another, my tusk is the one in the foreground. 

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Edited by AlaskaExplorations
Clarification

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Foozil

Gold and mammoth tusks... doesn't get any better than that :envy:

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AlaskaExplorations

Thank you, that's exactly what I needed! 

 

Any advice on cleaning it? There's still quite a bit of dirt stuck and crusted on it, but I know I need to be careful not to damage the bark. I was thinking a soft nylon bristed brush and plain water?

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Ptychodus04
3 hours ago, AlaskaExplorations said:

Thank you, that's exactly what I needed! 

 

Any advice on cleaning it? There's still quite a bit of dirt stuck and crusted on it, but I know I need to be careful not to damage the bark. I was thinking a soft nylon bristed brush and plain water?

 

Don't go anywhere near it with water. Mammoth material can be very hydrophilic. If you wet it it will begging the self destruction process all over again.

 

In the lab at the Perot Museum, we use acetone to loosen soft matrix on bones. You can dip your brush in acetone and lightly scrub. Also use a dental pick to lightly scrape it away. Be sure not to hit the tusk with the pick or you will scratch it. Wear gloves and a respirator and make sure you are in a well ventilated area. Acetone is nasty stuff and the vapors are explosive.

 

A less toxic solvent is isopropyl alcohol and it works well to loosen the soft stuff.

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AlaskaExplorations

So if I understand you correctly, I should just wrap it up to cure and not worry about the dirt right now. Then in a few months, when it's cured, clean at that point. 

 

I was thinking about cleaning it before drying, that's why I mentioned water. 

 

Thanks for the advice!

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Ptychodus04

I would wrap it up and deal with the dirt later. The longer it is allowed to dry uncontrolled, the greater chance of damage.

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RJB

Wow!   What a scary project!!!   Good luck.   Would love to see it again once your finished with it.

 

RB

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caldigger
On 8/4/2017 at 6:43 PM, Ptychodus04 said:

 

Don't go anywhere near it with water. Mammoth material can be very hydrophilic. If you wet it it will begging the self destruction process all over again.

Sorry Kris, but I'm a bit confused with this comment.  First you state to wrap it in wet burlap or newspaper (I'm presuming wet with water) then the next comment you tell him to not to let water to get near it.  Please clarify or am I missing something here?

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Ptychodus04
3 hours ago, caldigger said:

Sorry Kris, but I'm a bit confused with this comment.  First you state to wrap it in wet burlap or newspaper (I'm presuming wet with water) then the next comment you tell him to not to let water to get near it.  Please clarify or am I missing something here?

 

That did sound a bit contradictory didn't it? Ok, let me clarify...

 

When drying wet fossils, you want to control the rate of drying in order to keep the piece from falling apart due to differential volume of a dry exterior and a wet interior. You do this by wrapping in wet newspaper and buffering the air exposure with towels or a closed container or both. You want to do this as early as possible after excavation from a wet environment; don't even spend time on preparation.

 

After the specimen is dry, you don't want to go near it with water as it will readily absorb it and begin the deterioration process all over again if you get it too wet. That's when you would use a chemical solvent to loosen the matrix for preparation.

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Harry Pristis

My oh my . . . What a challenge.  There is no perfect solution of which I am aware for consolidating ivory.  I don't have any experience with a controlled drying approach.  I would be apprehensive waiting.  . . . Did I use enough hose clamps?

 

It seems to me that the highest priority is to consolidate BEFORE the ivory is dry enough to distort and delaminate.  That implies that you may have to consolidate while the ivory probably has a damp interior.  The penalty for this is uncertain core penetration and the white film of trapped moisture on the surface of the tusk.  The degree of penetration depends on your timing (How long should the tusk air dry) and how much consolidant you can apply.  The surface film can be removed without affecting the integrity of the tusk. Gently clean the surface of the tusk with a soft brush before consolidation.

 

So, that's how I'd approach this challenge -- right now!  I might build extended length saw-horses and suspend a hammock of 2 or even 3 sheets of heavy (3-4  mils) plastic sheeting.  (In my experience, polyethylene resists acetone, but use isopropyl alcohol  as a solvent for your Butvar B-15, if you are uncertain.)  With the tusk in the hammock, I would FLOOD the tusk with the consolidant.  Don't give several coats because each coat may inhibit the penetration of subsequent coats.  Use a turkey baster (or equivalent) to soak every bit of the ivory, again and again.  When you finish, if there is any consolidant still pooling in the hammock, puncture the plastic sheeting to drain the excess (you may have a use for any remainder).  Allow to thoroughly dry in the hammock.

 

But, that's just my approach.  I don't know which approach will give the best result.  Please let us know what you decide to do.

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AlaskaExplorations

Update:

 

I spoke with a fellow who has been working with mammoth tusks here in Alaska for some forty years, and got some valuable insight from him. In the end, I decided to use a couple of different methods to cure this tusk. First, I clamped it securely along it length with many SS hose clamps. Then, a wrap of several layers of damp burlap, tied with twine. Finally, I wrapped it with cling wrap, commonly used to wrap palletized goods. This was at the suggestion of the very experienced old timer. With interior Alaska's extremely dry climate, this will slow water evaporation tremendously. 

 

I will be storing this tusk, and trying to forget all about it, until sometime next summer, when preservation will take place. 

 

Thanks to all for the great suggestions!

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caldigger

Wow, did you buy out the stores supply of clamps?!  Great job so far, we'll be looking forward to the continuation of this project next year. Till then, we will have to throw it on the back burner.  Glad you got some expert help from some of the forum members and others as well. 

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ynot

Good luck!

Please remember to post the results here.

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Peat Burns

Very impressive

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Foozil

Looking forward to seeing it when its done :) Great work! 

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Ptychodus04

Very nice. That should dry very slowly and be in great shape once you unwrap it.

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Doctor Mud

A very thorough job with the pipe clamps. If ever avtusk had a great chance of coming out wonderfully, this would be it.

It will be tough forgetting about it but I'm sure that patience will pay off!

 

thanks for sharing.

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Peat Burns

I've seen large zip ties used this way.  Like hose clamps, they can be tightened when/if/as the specimen shrinks.  Might be cheaper (although not as wide).

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Rockman1957

I recently found a 5-foot mammoth tusk in Central Florida. I was able to plaster wrap a good three foot section of it and return home. The tusk is in bad shape trying to save what I can. I was told he was Gomer process with acetone and Duco cement but my problem is it has a large gaping cracks want to find something that will hold it together. Bulevar would be the same problem not helping me with the large deep cracks any suggestions

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Ptychodus04

Wow! That guy is a mess. You can use Paleosculpt or Apoxie Sculpt to fill the gaps after you have consolidated the pieces in Butvar. Both can be purchased in a few different colors and can be mixed/painted to match the tusk.

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