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The prehistoric engravings on ivory usually represent animals, often rendered in a masterly manner and combined to form scenes.
Later Egyptian ivory work, much of it of fine quality, is mostly decorative in intention, being used for handles, spoons, and inlays for caskets and furniture.
The great change came with power-driven rotary saws for cutting and peeling the ivory and with dental drills for carving it easily and quickly.
These machine tools spread from Europe to Asia in the mid-20th century and are now in universal use for carving ivory.
The earlier examples take the form of small nude female figures.
The carvings of animals belong to the succeeding Magdalenian period, and many of these have great merit.