Ox bone is one of several materials that’s carved into decorative objects instead of ivory. Usually taken from the shin, or tibia, ox bones, which are less dense than ivory and duller after polishing, are hollow on the inside and hard on their outer surfaces, making them perfect for everything from tall vases to slender figures to pointed finials.
During the Shang dynasty in China, ox bones were carved into personal items such as amulets and hairpins. More recently, in the 18th and 19th centuries, ox bone reliefs of Phoenix birds, Buddhas, and upper-class Chinese were created for the export market to the West. In Japan, ox bone was often fashioned into netsuke, although it was usually seen as a less-expensive substitute for jade, ivory, and other pricier materials.