The horse as source of raw materials

At present, it has been forgotten that after a long life of toil, the horse remained an important source of raw materials around which a large number of activities were organised. An economic, manufacturing and financial interest has for a long time existed in the exploitation of horse carcasses. Around 1827, Parent-Duchatelet insightfully described this rendering of the animal into the multitude of products it provided and the income men gained from it. Once the horse was dead, its hide was recovered for tanners, its hair for harness-makers and upholsterers, its hooves for the animal horn worker or glue worker and the fat was used by tanners and harness-makers; muscles were used as feed for dogs and animals in the zoos and menageries; once dried and ground, they could be used as fertiliser, such as blood, which was also used in refining sugar. And strong bonds resulted from the processing of entrails and tendons. Bones were highly sought after by bone workers (turners, coutiliers, fan-makers) and collagen producers. Special treatment of the flesh even provided a basis for the production of maggots for fishermen and feed for poultry, pheasants and young fowl.

The title of a documentary which I had seen when I was too young and had marked me for life returned to my memory: Blood of the Beasts. They killed animals at Vaugirard and at La Villette, and brought their hides here for trade. Thousands and thousands of anonymous animals. And all this was only a wasteland, and for a short time again, the names of some scavengers and assassins on half-collapsed walls.

Patrick Modiano, L'Herbe des nuits, Gallimard, 2012, p. 83

Analysing animal cannon bones from archaeological sites of Roman times discloses in part the exploitation of horses corpses. Cannon bones were highly sought after to make furniture hinges and pins; radial bones and the tibia diaphysis were often exploited. Certain horse bones were particularly sought after, such as the radial bones used in the 16th century as debarkers or the metapodials used as ice skates in the Early Middle Ages. As at the Louvre in the 15th century and evidenced by the large quantities of waste discovered in pits, others were selected by the rosary maker for creating rosaries.

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Arbogast, R.-M., Clavel, B., Lepetz, S., Méniel, P. et Yvinec, J.-H. — 2002. Archéologie du cheval, Paris, Errance.

Parent-Duchâtelet, A. J.-B. — 1827. Recherches et considérations sur l’enlèvement et l’emploi des chevaux morts, et sur la nécessité d’établir à Paris un clos central d’écarissage, tant pour les avantages de la salubrité publique que pour ceux de l’industrie manufacturière de cette ville, Paris, Bachelier, Librairie-éditeur des annales mensuelles de l’industrie manufacturière et des beaux-arts.