SHAKTOOLIK, Alaska (KTUU/Gray News) - A few inches of something stuck out from the sand.
Raymond Hunt knelt down and looked closer. At first it looked like a piece of black pipe, but on closer inspection, he realized it was a tusk, most likely from a woolly mammoth.
Calling his brother for help, the two men pulled the 6-foot long tusk out of the sand a few miles south of Shaktoolik and dusted it off.
“It’s the first time I found one,” Hunt said. He plans to sell it for winter fuel, food and snow machine parts.
There is a wide range of prices that he could get for it. According to multiple Anchorage ivory buyers, the wholesale price for mammoth ivory ranges from roughly $50 per pound to $125 per pound.
Petr Bucinsky, the owner of Petr’s Violin Shop in Anchorage, looked at a photo of the tusk and said it would be roughly worth $70 per pound. Hunt hasn’t weighed it but estimates it’s roughly 70 pounds, potentially netting him $5,000.
Preserving the tusk before it sells will be vital.
Exposure to oxygen means the ivory will start cracking and it will fall apart. It needs to be wrapped tightly in cellophane and then restoration work can begin once it’s sold.
Bucinsky buys ivory and carves it into a whole host of products like knife handles, gun grips and pens. He also makes guitar picks that retail from $45-$50 for basic picks and up to $70 for ornate ones.
Bucinsky also makes bridge pins, used at the bottom of the guitar to hold the string in place. Apart from a luxury good, he says it makes a different sound for guitarists.
“You can make something beautiful that sings,” he said.
Will Ingram, the store’s manager, shows the bridge pins inlaid with Australian opal. He says the ivory makes for a longer, more resonant note than plastic.
“Even a novice can hear the difference between the low-end stuff and this,” he says, showing off a $6,500 Taylor guitar with mammoth ivory bridge pins.
Collecting mammoth fossils from public land in Alaska is typically illegal without a permit. The beach close to Shaktoolik is owned by the local native corporation.
For Hunt, the search for more valuable ivory is just beginning. “I’ve got the tusk fever,” he said.
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