Ivory was the cause of the some of the oldest trading networks in human history. It is part of our cultural landscape yet ivory has commonly only been viewed through the lens of slavery or conservation. This article takes a broad look at the place of ivory in human history, from prehistoric times to the 19th century, with emphasis on the early modern world. Ivory trade is set against the backdrop of the environmental and evolutionary history of the elephant. It decouples the commodity from its adjuncts, to encourage a better understanding of the impact of ivory.