The Life of Dead Things

As a practicing consumer anthropologist I see a lot of strange things in people’s homes.  Perhaps one the more disturbing artifacts found doing fieldwork include stuffed and / or mounted dead animals.

I suppose I understand the trophy value of having the head of that giant moose you killed on that hunting trip as a symbol of your primal prowess.  But there are times I wonder why people keep, for example, their dead pets.  We certainly wouldn’t keep our dearly departed grandmother hanging out in her favorite chair for the rest of our waking lives…so why the pets?   Why the non-game animals?

Sentiment aside, I decided i would like to understand more about the anthropological origins of taxidermy.  Aren’t you glad I’m so curious and can impart this random knowledge on my vast audience of loyal readers?

Here is a link to a site that discusses the most ancient and spiritually-oriented origins of taxidermy:

http://www.ravishingbeasts.com/a-short-history-of-taxidermy/

A brief excerpt from said website:

“Ancient techniques for preserving entire or parts of animals and humans were secret arts, frequently associated with religious ceremonies and mystical rites. Protecting the dead from decay was variously understood as a means of easing the transition of the spirit between this world and the next, harnessing supernatural forces, or accessing knowledge of the natural and supernatural worlds. Preserved body parts were links to the after world and were appropriately revered as symbols of strength and worldly representations of unworldly powers. In an effort to ensure abundant harvests, the Maori sometimes placed the skull, bones, and dried heads of ancestors around cultivated lands to recruit symbolically ancestral aid. Some North American First Nations peoples were known to use the preserved heads of porcupines, foxes, raccoons, and eagles to decorate their clothing and equipment. In the Ecuadorian and neighboring Peruvian Amazon, members of the Jivaro Tribe wore the shrunken head, or tsanta, of their enemy as trophies to harness the powers of the victim’s spirit and to enhance the wearer’s prestige and. If the head of a slain warrior was not obtainable, the Jivaro substituted the head of a tree sloth, which many of the tribes in the region believed to be a direct ancestor of humans and endowed with human qualities.”

And for the pop culture enthusiast, here is an entertaining commercial that points to the “evolution” of the practice:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJP1DphOWPs

While I appreciate the superstitions and even the kitsch value of having a dead thing hanging out in your otherwise well-appointed home, I think i will stick to my collection of plush animals with mustaches.

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