Haslemere Educational Museum borrows the Horniman Museum's Merman

By Nick Owen | 15 August 2011
  • Archived article
The Horniman Merman
The Horniman Merman. Picture courtesy the Horniman Museum
The Haslemere Educational Museum has been selected to borrow the Horniman Museum's Mysterious Merman, which will be on display until September 30 2011.

The Merman is one of the Horniman’s most famous objects, which often leaves guests puzzled as to its origins. The loan comes under an MLA funded Effective Collections programme, which will see the Horniman loaning other objects from its Designated collection over the next year.

Haslemere boasts a natural history collection that encompasses, animals, reptiles and fishes; in fact all of the likely constituent parts of the merman.

Mermaids have held a place in Japanese culture for thousands of years, with a long history of mummified specimens in Shinto shrines and temples. The Horniman acquired theirs, originally described as a Japanese Monkey-fish, in 1982.

Japanese mermen are usually made from the head and body of a monkey stitched to the tail of a fish, and it was assumed the Horniman merman was similarly made.

However, on close examination of the Merman, using photography, microscopy, x-radiography, CT scans and DNA samples, it was revealed this wasn’t the case.

X-rays revealed that the head of the Merman is in fact made of clay, with a real fish jaw and teeth embedded into the face.

According to scientists who examined the Merman, bony fin rays could also be clearly seen in the tail, confirming that it came from a real fish.

DNA has been taken from the fish jaw and tail and it may be possible to identify the species of the fish used and where the Merman was made.
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