The Armadillo

The last of the "three dried Indian animals, namely: a salamander, a crocodile, and an unknown [animal] with shells" mentioned in Ximenez's inventory must be the American armadillo. No one in Europe would have described turtles or crabs as "unknown." At the time the word Indian could, of course, refer to either India (or even Asia) or to the Americas. In the course of the sixteenth century the armadillo became a symbol of the New World; it was occasionally depicted on Antwerp kunstkastjes and on engravings with representations of the Four Continents. As an image it figures at least since the 1520s on European maps; as a dried object it was sold as a curiosity in the markets of Constantinople by the 1550s, as testified by the French naturalist Pierre Belon. Many owners of Kunst- und Wunderkammern all over Europe possessed armadillos, and the animal figures prominently in most illustrated works that discuss nature in the New World. In the Southern Netherlands, three different types of armadillos could be seen together in the 'museum' of the local naturalia expert Jacques Plateau in Tournai in the course of the 1570s-80s. In short, these animals were a standard kind of rarity.

Florike Egmond, Leiden University


Egmond, Florike, and Peter Mason. "Armadillos in Unlikely Places: Some Unpublished Sixteenth-Century Sources for New World local Rezeptionsgeschichte in Northern Europe." Ibero-Amerikanisches Archiv: Zeitschrift für Sozialwissenschaften und Geschichte 20 (1994): 3-52.

Adriaen Collaert after Maarten de Vos, America, c. 1585, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Image: © Rijksmuseum.