Woolly Mammoth for violins!?!!

Adventures in the supply chain for fine string instruments

On Saturday, I saw on a service note that my bow had cracks in the “bone face”. Asking what kind of bone that part of the bow was made from, I learned many fine violin bows use WOOLLY MAMMOTH(!!!) ivory for their end fixtures–in other words, dear string playing friends–you might have a 3,500+ (!!!) year old piece of tusk on the tip of your bow [1].
It’s strange to think something so ancient might be in widespread use among professionals. It’s like trying to grasp how the clams people eat in clam chowder can be up to 300 years old [2].
I kind of want to get mine carbon dated now, and sort of wish there were more people who knew how to study them as it seems finding the tusks in the north is more common than most people might imagine.
Often preserved in the permafrost, woolly mammoth tusks frequently show up in the tundra (e.g. Russia’s Siberia, Canada), and in construction sites (e.g. Indiana–I had a geology professor at UM-Dearborn who would study Mastadons–different species–and excavate there). It seems a lot more appear now due to accelerated climate change [3]. As an extinct animal, it’s (in hushed tones) relatively okay to use in the industry as it requires no killing, and people claim its abundant enough that it altogether helps accelerate the elimination of elephant poaching and elephant ivory trade (definitely illegal) from markets. Yes, it seems some violin and bow makers take open note about it too e.g. http://www.martinswanviolins.com/sales/ethical-mammoth-ivory-for-violins-and-violin-bows/
Really, woolly mammoth ivory dealers exist, even in the U.S. and “most mainstream dealers” will accept… bitcoin [4]. My brain can barely wrap around this.
On a violin bow–most have a piece of plastic, wood, or metal at the tip. Some fancy bows have it on other fixtures too. The one pictured is not mine, I did however, get to check it out while my mind was getting blown from asking the shop what kind of bone their makers likely use.
As a necessary material for historical instruments, perhaps I’d be more comfortable with horn from deer or bison on a violin bow than using something that ancient. To me, mammoth tusks are a precious non-renewable bit of our natural heritage. Ancient items can reveal a lot about the world through research.At the same time, I’m glad it’s not elephant ivory. By the way, what do scientists speculate was responsible for driving the woolly mammoth to extinction? Humans and climate [5]. What seems to be the trend for killing elephants today? Humans and climate. Thought technically, it’s just humans–accelerated changes in climate (which adds to habitat loss) remains largely attributable to humans too [6/7].

Curiosity can go a long way. What are your thoughts about this? Are there any items many people might use with unusual origins you wish the world knew about?

Please share in the comments below! For anyone curious, the Woolly Mammoth’s scientific name is Mammuthus primigenius.

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/03/12/woolly-mammoth-tusks-for-sale-bitcoin_n_4951797.html
[5] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080401-mammoth-extinction.html
[6/7] This one’s challenging a complex issue to attribute, I’ll point to this site which starts with accessible scientific explanations/responses to climate skeptics, and then fans out into various scholarly citations

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