Cataphractus: the Armadillo in the New World Chronicles and XVII Century Museums


  • Ernesto Capanna "Battista Grassi" Museum of Comparative Anatomy, Department of Animal and Human Biology, University of Rome "La Sapienza, I


Armadillo , XVII century Museums, History of Zoology


 After the discovery of the New World, the European philosophers experienced new strange animals “never seen before by Christians”, as they wrote in their accounts, where the astonishment was underlined with Latin words such as admiratio, monstrificum, miraculum naturae, i.e. wonder, monstrous, miracle of nature. Undoubtedly the Armadillo was the most surprising among all animals of the Nova Hispania, owing to its complete cuirass of bone plates, like the harness of a battle or tourney horse. The armadillo struck the imagination of the first chroniclers of the New World from Pietro Martire to Oviedo to Hernandez; afterwards it was described and depicted in the zoological treatises of the XVI and XVII centuries. The XVII century collections of natural wonders (Wunderkammern) struggled for the possession of such a specimens; we find news concerning specimens of armadillo in the museums of Jacob Plateau and Consalvo Gonzales de Molina, as well as in the Museum of Athanasius Kircher in the Collegio Romano. Notwithstanding the inaccurate depiction of this strange animal we find in ancient books, we can recognize four specie  known to XVII century zoologists, namely Dasypus novemcinctus, Dasypus septemcinctus, Euphractus sexcinctus and Tolypeutes tricinctus.