When it comes to the history of taxidermy, you could say that it has been around since man became a hunter. Throughout our history, man has always kept trophies from what we have hunted and that tradition continues today. Whether it was pelts to make clothing or blankets or teeth for jewelry, man has utilized the methods of taxidermy for millennia.
In fact, the first known taxidermy has been linked to prehistoric man who were primitive taxidermists. To help preserve their animal skins, they would run the animal skins over rock or preserve them with mud. While the preservation was not well done, it is the first evidence that taxidermy was done, at least in a lesser manner.
Fast forward several millennia and you can find taxidermy throughout the world. In fact, Ancient Egypt used taxidermy to preserve cats and other pets that were buried with their owners. While mummification is different than taxidermy, the thought of preserving an animal completely is the same.
Although taxidermy can be traced back to those early years in man’s history, it didn’t begin to take shape until the middle ages. During that time, more effort was made in preserving animals and while it began with preserving birds used in falconry hunting, it quickly branched out into other forms of taxidermy.
One of the oldest examples of taxidermy is a Rhino that can still be seen in Italy. It is believed to have been preserved in the 16th century and has weathered the years very well.
Something that is interesting about the history of taxidermy is that it has been shaped primarily due to the supply and demand of quality leather. As society began to demand the higher quality materials, tanners around the world began to change and improve their methods for making it. Tanning was in high demand by the 17th century and continued to push the development of taxidermy.
In fact, tanning, became a highly sought after profession and you could often find a tannery in any town that you frequented.
Although tanning was used to preserve animal pelts for use in clothing, bedding, furniture and other items, the idea of actually preserving trophies from hunting didn’t begin until the 1800’s. At that time, hunters began to bring their trophies into upholsterer shops and have them stuffed. The end result was a very crude form of taxidermy and the end result was often a poor representation of the animal.
Still, stuffing of animal carcasses became customary until the early 1900’s when more emphasis was placed on making an animal look lifelike by using anatomically correct manikins. Through the 1900’s, taxidermy has improved greatly and has become what we know it today.