Trigger warnings for this article: human mortal remains, animal mortal remains, links to photos of clean skeletons, art made in questionable taste.Edit: I found some more information, so I've partially re-written a significant part of this article. I've changed the title of this article to reflect the change. The first sources I found indicated that the event in question happened during this year. However, it turned out to have taken place several years ago. I apologize for presenting this as "news."
In 2008, Skulls Unlimited, a supplier of authentic and replica bones of all kinds, artist Bill Willers commissioned a custom skeletal centaur mount by mixing real skeletons of a human and a zebra.1
During that year, Skulls Unlimited displayed a photo of the finished skeleton on the front page of their web-site. (That page also says that the animal portion is a zebra, not a horse.) You can still see the photo
in the 2008 archive of the Skulls Unlimited site. It has long since vanished off of their current site.2
This is not Willers's first synthesized centaur skeleton. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville has long displayed a different centaur skeleton, which cames with a fabricated backstory about the "Centaur Excavations at Volos
." (The link includes a photo of it.) It was created not as a hoax, but as a work of fiction in museum format. In the 1980s, Bill Willers assembled the centaur of Volos
"from the tea stained bones of a pony and a deteriorating human skeleton. [...] The human portions of the centaur were acquired by Willers from his department at the University of Wisconsin. For many years the department had a human skeleton from India which had been used for class exercises and was starting to deteriorate."3
So we see that the centaur of Volos is made from real human remains, but those remains came from somebody who did not agree to be turned into a centaur. Was this also the case with the real human remains used in the Skulls Unlimited centaur? I have not been able to find out.
In the case of both the Skulls Unlimited centaur, and the centaur of Volos, the human and animal remains are by themselves authentic. However, the centaur skeleton altogether is artificial. They are "synthetic," in the sense of being a combination of different things to create a new thing. A synthesized centaur skeleton occupies a position between real and unreal. This resembles the status of more common staples of curiosity shops, such as "Fiji mermaids," which are assembled from mummified monkeys and fish, or "jackalopes," stuffed rabbits with antlers added. More examples abound in curiosity shops, ranging in their requirements for skill and questionable taste.
The second and newer centaur, the one assembled by Skulls Unlimited in 2008, is named the centaur of Tymfi.
"In 2009 [sic, this probably refers to the completion of the museum installation, after the skeleton was synthesized], Willers completed an even more ambitious creation: a full-size 'Centaur' skeleton (made from zebra and human bones) mounted in a glass museum case. The marvelous new Centaur of Tymfi is permanently displayed in the Wildlife Museum, Tucson, Arizona."4
The comments on the BoingBoing post
about the Skulls Unlimited centaur point out some interesting ideas, regarding problems of centaur anatomy (such as the right-angle bend in the spine, and the placement or duplication of internal organs), and the ethics of using mortal remains in art.5
Wouldn’t it be interesting if someday the real human skeleton used to synthesize a centaur skeleton came from a donor who specifically requested an “afterlife” as a centaur? We do not have the means to physically transform living people into fantasy creatures, but we do have the means to reshape mortal remains.
( Sources )