Looking at, describing and identifying objects
Looking at, describing and identifying objects

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Looking at, describing and identifying objects

3 Life cycle: production and consumption


This kind of observation (close looking) produces the raw material for the first stages of reconstructing an object’s biography, structured through the life cycle model (production, consumption and afterlife). By piecing together observations and assumptions about what has been observed, it is possible to outline the production of the object.

Activity 2

Timing: You should allow about 10 minutes for this activity.

Combine what you have observed about the object in Figure 2 and the discussion in the activity above to write a brief account of the earliest stage of this object’s biography – its production.


Despite the lack of certainty around some of the observations, it is possible to outline a basic sequence of events. Here is my attempt:

Somewhere in Africa or India an elephant grew a tusk (assuming the object is made of elephant ivory). The elephant died and its tusk was removed and taken to a workshop. A small piece, possibly the end of the tusk, was cut off. This was intricately carved to create a small (4–4.5cm) object in the shape of an elephant with a blanket on its back. The elephant is standing upright with its head turned back and lowered. A ladder runs up one flank of the elephant and a rope dangles down the other. Numerous small figures crawl over and around the elephant, some climbing up or down from the elephant’s back. The figures were created by carving into the ivory, cutting out the figures in high relief. The surface was smoothed and polished. Details such as faces, wrinkles and clothes were carved into the surface with a fine tool. These details may have been coloured by the application of a dark brown substance. A hole was drilled on the underside and further decoration added to the otherwise flat underside.


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