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Relentless demand for ivory dramatically diminished African elephant (Loxodonta africana) populations.As early as the mid-seventeenth century, elephants were extinct along the West African coast, forcing hunting and trade caravans further and further inland in search of ivory.
Scenes commonly portrayed in relief on the ivories capture the dynamic and cosmopolitan coastal activity related to the transatlantic trade.
By the eighteenth and nineteenth century, industrial demand for ivory increased for the mass production of such items as combs, piano keys, billiard balls, handles for knives, tools, hand mirrors, and various decorative objects and trimmings, as well as scientific measures and instruments.
Ivory figurative scepters (nkama ntinu) were among an array of artworks created as emblems of royal and chiefly authority (1978.412.657).
Although Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) also grow ivory tusks, their tusks are much smaller than those grown by African elephants and are only evident on male elephants.
The tremendous size of African elephant tusks, at as large as about 225 lbs.