Monday, March 3, 2014

Unusual Artifacts: The British Museum’s “Merman”

The British Museum

Presented to Queen Victoria’s grandson, HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught (son of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught), in the early 1900’s, this nautical curiosity was said to have been “captured” in the Eigtheenth Century. The gift was made to the prince by one Arisue Seijiro of Japan who claimed that this mummified creature was in fact, the desiccated remains of a “Merman.” We’re not quite sure if Prince Arthur believed that this was true, however, he did donate the thing to The British Museum.

Of course, we know that this object is really the dried top-half of a monkey attached to a mummified fish tail—held together by means of a wooden interior support. However such marriages of mummified animals were not uncommon. Many such “Mermen” made their way from Japan to Europe—purported by their sellers as quite authentic. Such curiosities were quite popular both in private homes and in sideshows up until the Nineteenth Century (I’m sure some sideshows still display them today). This particular specimen is displayed in the British Museum’s “Enlightenment Gallery” which strives to show the history of museums from mad collections of curiosities to scientific encyclopedias of objects curated in a truthful and logical manner.

It’s quite a ghastly thing, yet interesting in its way. I’d have paid a shilling to see it. And, in fact, I still might.

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