The art of taxidermy today is used for a wide range of purposes, much like it has been for centuries. Taxidermy has been around for countless ages and dates back to ancient Egypt. The Egyptians were rather advanced in developing new techniques and other such innovations, especially considering the time period and available resources and technology.
In ancient Egypt, taxidermy was not used as a means to put animals on display, but rather, to preserve animals that were pets or were beloved by pharaohs and other nobility. They developed the first type of preservation of both humans and animals through the use of embalming tools, spices, injections, and oils. The purpose of the preservation of animals was so that they could be buried alongside the pharaoh or nobility. One of the most notable animals the Egyptians preserved was a hippopotamus. While their methods were not used to put animals on display, it did pave the way for further developments and new taxidermy techniques.
Many Native American tribes preserved the skins of foxes, raccoons, bears, buffalo, porcupines, and eagles to produce and decorate their clothing, tools, and equipment. To this day, remnants of such Native American tribes continue this early form of taxidermy in tanning and preserving animals for traditional and cultural purposes.
During the Dark Ages, the interest in taxidermy declined. It wasn’t until the 1400s that people took a renewed interest in the art. This was the start of the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution, which lasted into the 1600s. Not only were people interested in preserving animal skins and hides but also in recreating life-like representations of the animals as a form of art. It was during this time that museums also first started to become interested in creating displays featuring a wide range of wild animals for people to see up close. In the Netherlands in the 1600s, the first attempts were made to preserve and mount birds. The first large-scale animal mounted was in the 1500s at the Royal Museum in Florence, Italy, where they used taxidermy techniques of the time to create a rhinoceros display.
In the 1980s, museums started to use flesh-eating beetles, called Dermestid beetles, to remove flesh from carcasses. The purpose of using beetles was that it left the bones clean while preserving their structures, including delicate nasal bones. Gradually, taxidermists also started using Dermestid beetles to clean the flesh from carcasses when they were creating European mounts (skull mounts), skeleton mounts, or needed parts of the skeleton to create a trophy mount or life-size replica.
Taxidermy has come a long way since ancient Egypt, and it has evolved into a form of art and science to preserve and better understand animals. Whether you think this art form is dark and macabre or intriguing and evocative, one thing is for certain—the people who brought this morbidly beautiful craft to the spotlight almost two centuries ago would be extremely happy to see how taxidermy has evolved and is "alive" and still kicking in the 21st century!