Inside the Collection – Garden of Eden Serpent Skin
Inside the Collection is a video series that invites you into the Chicago History Museum’s storage spaces to explore unusual, interesting artifacts from our vast collection.
In this installment, senior collection manager Britta Keller Arendt shows us the skin of the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. This artifact came to the Museum in the 1920s as part of the Charles F. Gunther collection. Although it is not in fact from biblical times, it is representative of the curiosities collected in the nineteenth century. “Curiosity cabinets,” the precursor of modern museums, date to the Renaissance period and evolved over time until the Victorian era. Typically, these early museums featured relics of the natural world, antiquities, and rarities yet to be defined (but now known to be fake).
The label in the corner is written in French and translates to read: “Skin of the Snake that tempted the first woman. It was killed by Adam the day after its treachery. Adam used a stake, the traces of which can still be seen.” While there is indeed a puncture, a local herpetologist examined the skin in recent years and determined that it actually came from a python or anaconda. The hieroglyphics written around the frame were deemed gibberish by another consultant. While this relic is decidedly inauthentic, it’s still a fine example of the oddities one would find in a “cabinet of curiosities” and a fascinating part of our collection.