A History of Elephant Craft

Using the image of the elephant in crafts dates back to the ancient times. In some cultures, elephants were a religious object, while some viewed the giant animal as a means of trade.

There are three classifications of elephants today - one from Asia and two from Africa. However, a discovery in 2016 from a DNA sample found in one of the elephant fossils show that there was another species of elephants that might be related to the African elephants. This elephant came from Europe which was said to have lived 200,000 years ago. Other than that, it also revealed that elephants interbred with mammoths.

While this relatively new discovery sheds light on the evolution of elephants in the field of paleontology, not much can be said about the evolution of the elephant craft. However, because it was discovered that elephants were first discovered in Asia, Africa, and Europe, you can start from those places in knowing how the elephant craft took place.

One of the most famous places that make use of a lot of elephant images is Africa. Several tribes in this country believe that elephants connect both heaven and earth. This is why they made use of elephants in their necklaces and headdresses. However, it all changed when the ivory trade began.

The Ivory Trade in the 1800s brought a huge demand for jewelry made from ivory. And where did they get the ivory? No other than from elephant tusks. In fact, in Africa alone, the elephant population decreased from 26 million in the 1800s to less than 1 million in the present day. This was the start of an industrialized manufacturing of elephant jewelry as we know it today.

Royal Thai Elephants Sculpture Jewelry Center

But jewelry was not the only kind of art where elephants were depicted. Found in Musée National du Bardo in Tunisia, an ancient elephant mosaic that dates back to the 4th century was found. It was made of limestone, marble, and glass. There were also images of the elephant during the middle ages even though people in Europe were said to not have seen one in real life. They only created images based on the stories of travelers they encountered. To add to that, Rembrandt had a lot of drawings of elephants during his time. In 1637, he sketched an elephant that scientists later discovered as the first Asian elephant. It was named Hansken.

Carvings of elephants in porcelain and wood were also famous back then. In an art center in Ghana, a scientist discovered displays of a number of elephant wood carvings. They were often made from mahogany and rosewood and when he asked if it were native to the country, an elder informant said that an Africa-American traveler taught the natives how to make wood carvings of elephants to be sold as tourist objects.

On the other hand, elephants were depicted in Kakiemon (Japanese porcelain) during the late 1600s. The elephant first arrived in Japan waters as a gift to the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimochi. Since then, Kakiemon makers put images of the elephant in porcelain.