Beverley has a degree in Science and additional certifications in nutrition and aromatherapy. She's published on and offline.
What Are Articulation, Taxidermy, and Plastination?
Articulation is the technique of cleaning, degreasing, bleaching, and assembling animal skeletons for preservation. Taxidermy (see photo) is the three-dimensional reproduction of an animal. Plastination is the process used to preserve the entire anatomy including tissues of animals and humans. All three crafts require extensive, detailed, and precise workmanship.
The Articulation Process
Methods used to clean bones in the articulation process include
- burying them in water-logged soil to rot the flesh;
- soaking in chemicals such as sodium perborate or an ammonia-water solution;
- treating with enzymes;
- simmering with dermestid beetle larvae; or
- treating with horse manure.
Cleaning the Bones With Larvae
To clean the bones with the larvae, follow the procedure below:
- Corrugated cardboard or some other material to accommodate pupation is laid inside a container with a lid.
- After the animal’s skin, organs, excess flesh, and other tissues have been removed; it is placed on the cardboard.
- The beetle larvae are then added and the lid is closed tightly.
- The container is placed in a warm, dark area and frequently checked.
- Once the bones are clean, any remaining larvae are killed by putting the bones in a freezer at a temperature of minus 18 to 20 degrees for three days or burning with heat.
Degreasing the Bones
The next step is degreasing. This step is broken down as follows:
- A common method is to soak the bones in a solution of equal parts water and ammonia. The solution is changed until it no longer looks discolored.
- The bones are then rinsed with warm water and dried for a few days before checking again for oils or grease. If any is found, the process is repeated. Some specimens as birds tend to have greasier bones.
Bleaching the Specimen for Final Articulation
Bleaching the specimen for whiteness is part of completing the articulation process.
A popular technique is soaking the bones in hydrogen peroxide—the kind you find at the pharmacy—for about one week. The chemical is also changed frequently, if necessary. At this juncture, the bones should look pristine and ready for the final step: articulation.
Bones are now assembled with wires, steel rods, needles, pins, glue, and so on in a manner that reflects the animal’s natural stance and posture.
The entire procedure from cleaning to articulation could take more than 100 hours depending on the animal’s size, age, and necessary work. A mid-sized animal takes about one week.
Fats and water are removed from the body and its organs and replaced with a plastic solution such as polyester, silicone, or epoxy. The solution preserves the body forever while maintaining its natural integrity; appearance, and shape.
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The process was developed by Dr. Gunther von Hagens in 1977 as a result of his work at the Anatomical Institute of Heidelberg University, Germany. Von Hagens was searching for a way to improve the durability of renal tissues. He patented his techniques and created his own company, BIODUR, to market them.
In 1993, von Hagens established the Institute for Plastination at Heidelberg. In 1995, the Japanese Anatomical Society invited him to participate in an exhibition at Tokyo’s National Science Museum. This led to his own series of worldwide exhibitions called "Body Worlds." Each new exhibit showed improvement and growth in the way the specimens were presented. By Body World four, they appeared more lifelike and less morbid.
Standard plastination involves a number of steps.
- First, the whole body or parts (depending on size, age, and length of post mortem) is embalmed with formaldehyde or Kaiserling-I solution which is a mixture of deionized water, formalin, potassium acetate, and potassium nitrate.
- Next, it is cautiously immersed in a frozen acetone bath to replace the water in the cells.
- Finally, the specimen(s) is submerged in polymer and placed in an oven for at least five weeks until it is hardened and fully cured. Some prefer to use gas or ultraviolet light instead. If the specimen was cut into parts, the final step would be smoothing out the severed ends by grinding.
Other Types of Plastination
There are other types of plastination.
Sheet plastination, for instance, is used for tissues, organs, and extremities. Body parts are sliced 1/2 to 1/3-inch thick; processed and impregnated with epoxy or polyester resin; encased in clear plastic sheets; cured in a flat chamber, and encased in more resin.
A newer technique, light-weight plastination, was created to decrease the use of the expensive resin in heavy body parts. Xylene and silicone are used instead. These types of plastination provide better specimens for teaching medical students and for research.
Depending on where in the world you reside and on what species you are working with, the three interesting crafts: Articulation, Taxidermy, and Plastination may require formal education and licenses. Good specimens are sought after by the scientific, medical, and teaching communities, museums, zoos, a variety of businesses, and private collectors.
Resources and Further Reading
- Behind the Scenes with a Taxidermist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County - Atlas Obs
- Gunther von Hagens - Wikipedia
- About Bone Cleaning and Assembly | TheBoneman.com
Animal skeleton/bones cleaning and assembly. Skeleton articulation, or bone building as I call it, is the process of converting a dead animal into a completely cleaned and articulated skeleton.
- How Taxidermy Works | HowStuffWorks
Taxidermy is the art, or science, of mounting the skin of a dead animal to make it appear lifelike. Learn more about taxidermy.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Beverley Byer
Shaddie from Washington state on April 10, 2015:
Ghost32 on March 10, 2013:
Impressive. I was considering beating myself about the head and shoulders for not being up on plastination...until I got to the part about it being a relatively new technique.
Voted Up and More.