Since the dawn of antiquity to modern times man has been using animals for his different needs. People eat animals, grow them as pets, use them for work and amusement, and also for making tools, clothes and decorative ornaments like jewelry. Jewelry is mostly made using the harder parts of the animal, like bones, horns, and teeth. Cow and buffalo bone are commonly used, although camel, deer and ox bone are abundant too. Elephant tusks are illegal today, but fossilized tusks of extinct animals like mammoths and mastodons are legal and can be found in spring time in river banks in Alaska and Northern Russia when the snows melt. Bone, which is made from the mineral Calcium Carbonate, is usually white or yellowish in color. Horns are made of Keratin – a fibrous protein that is also found in wool, quilts and feathers. In Indonesia, considered as the world’s biggest bone jewelry manufacturer, the Water Buffalo’s (Bubalus Bubalis) horns, which are black or dark brown, are preferred by jewelry makers.
Animal bone is soft and light and can be easily hand carved, fashioned and engraved to make a wide variety of jewelry, like necklaces, pendants, amulets, charms, beads, spacers, earrings and connectors. In ancient, ethnic and tribal cultures bone jewelry was also used as money and symbols of wealth. Today, with the growing global consciousness to preservation of the environment, bone jewelry is growing more popular. It is considered natural, organic, and therefore eco friendly. In tribal and surfer jewelry designs bone beads blend naturally with other organic materials like wood, leather, hemp or cotton. It is now trendy to decorate bone beads or amulets with primitive motif designs.
The Spirit of Carving
Bone carving is known to exist worldwide, from the Eskimo culture, India, and China to many native American tribes. The tribal bone carver is highly respected and occupies a distinct place in the community. The Maori, New Zealand’s native people, believe that the “mana” or the essence of the carver enters the piece and stays in it for eternity. Most carvers prefer carving the “Shin bone,” the lower half of the leg. It is easier to clean because it has little flesh and easier to carve because it is long and straight.
Bone jewelry enthusiasts and collectors have their gourmets too, like dinosaur bone for example. Found in some areas of South West United States “Dino Bone” is today illegal. Over thousands of years the fossilized bone’s cellular structure has been replaced with quartz, forming a stone-hard material that ranges in color from brown to black with splotches of red, blue and bright yellow.
A website specializing in organic jewelry sells animal penis ( bacula, plural – bacculum) bones. These can be found in many male mammals like rodents, bears, seals, otters, beavers, badgers, hedgehogs, wolves, coyotes , dogs, and many primates (but not humans). Female capuchin monkeys, mice, and at least some chipmunks and squirrels, have an ‘os clitoris,’ which is a clitoris bone.
Some may wonder if it is ethical to use animals for jewelry. Others may think it is ethical but only if the bones are extracted from the animal after it’s natural death. And there are those who oppose killing animals for any reason, even for eating. In the Indonesian island of Bali, where 90% of the population is Hindu, the cow and the Water Buffalo are considered sacred animals and are protected from any harm while still alive. But after the animals die Hindus see it important to utilize every part of them.
Preserving the Environment
Bone jewelry is considered eco friendly, but some environmentalists may have reservations. Industrial processing of bones into jewelry involves using chemicals, some of which are dangerous and smelly. To remove meat and gristle many manufacturers soak bones in either hydrochloric or sulfuric acid. Then, to remove protein and gelatin that can compose and rot, a dilute solution of bleach is used.