02.20.08

Elephant parchment?

Posted in Art, Random thoughts at 10:05 pm by ducky

BTW, one of the things that I love about living at Green College is that there is always someone around who knows the answer.  Over the weekend, I got fixated on a big empty wall at our host’s place, and decided that it needed a huge forgery of a medieval map.  But it needed to be BIG to fit the wall.

Medieval maps tend to be about the size of a sheepskin because, well, vellum was made from sheepskins.  They just didn’t have six foot sheep.

I started wondering what kind of story you could make up about how it was so big.  Elephant parchment?   And this got me to wondering how big a piece of leather you could get from an African elephant… so this morning I asked Jake at breakfast.  Jake tracks elephants in Kenya, of course.  (Don’t you routinely have breakfast with elephant trackers?)

Based on his estimates, I could get a rectangular piece around six feet by twelve feet.

Jake also told me that they make paper out of elephant dung.  Elephants, not being ruminants, pass fiber through undigested and in great form for making paper.  Even better for my medieval map forgery!

Update: While it isn’t hugely common, leather is made even today of sealskin and walrus skin, so presumably you could make parchment out of it as well.  Walruses are about 3m long; the biggest elephant seal on record was almost 7m long.

I found some evidence that Canadians successfully made leather out of the skin of white (beluga) whales.  Belugas measure up to 5m long.  If the skin of belugas is similar to that of blue whales, (32m long), then it seems like the maximum size of a piece of parchment is probably around 30m long.  That’s one big piece of parchment!

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