This will be my first (an hopefully only) mystery object answer that doesn’t really provide much of an answer. As I mentioned on Friday I am currently researching the construction of this object:
So far I have made good headway in working out what it’s not made of, but there are still a wide range of possible materials that could make it up. The specimen was CT scanned in an effort to get to the bottom of this issue, but it takes time for data to be processed and we may be waiting another week or two before I have the snazzy results needed to reconstruct how this is put together. Needless to say I will provide a full detailed post once the results are in.
Nonetheless, I have been able to work out some things about the specimen, much of which has been picked up by my eagle-eyed readers. The specimen is a Feejee mermaid (or a Japanese Monkey Fish) as spotted by Jake, these gaffs have been in circulation for a long time, although I’ll have more to say on their history when I dedicate a full-blown ‘blessay’ to this bizarre object. For now I will simply say that the tail is indeed from a fish (species yet to be ascertained) and the torso and skull are not from a monkey. I think the jaws may be from something like a wolf fish, based on the structure of the front teeth, but the 3D model derived from the CT scan will hopefully provide the information to make a more confident identification. Needless to say it’s not a real mermaid.
I apologise for not having a more informative answer this week, but rest assured that I will more than make up for it once the CT data come through. All that remains for now is to thank everyone for their comments, which are incredibly heartening and helpful – I will certainly be following up some of your suggestions, so this will be a bit of online community curation when finished. Please feel free to keep making suggestions – I will make sure that due credit is given where I follow up on an interesting observation.
More generally I will keep the Friday mystery object running and I’ll certainly try to include a broader range of objects. Thanks for all of your support!
“Needless to say it’s not a real mermaid.”
How do you know?
Maybe real mermaids are that divergently chimeric that to us they look like cut-and-shut fakes. So, maybe all the mermaids etc in museums are in fact real?
Food for thought…
I would expect, therefore, that all the mermaid specimens in the museums to share some synapomorphies other than ‘fish-like pelvic and caudal region, tetrapod-like pectoral and cranial region.’
I have not yet seen any.
(yes yes, I see that smiley face. I just couldn’t help myself.)
Fair point – we’ll just have to wait on the CT scan results…
That´s really interesting. Do you have any news about the scans of the “mermaid”? I am very interested in the ways in which fake-taxidermy works, and also already made several similar models, yet none of them included any real animal parts. I´ve been working on my very own feejee mermaid since a long time, and now I am comparably close to see it finished. I tried to make it similar to the old, somewhat ghoulish-looking mermaids, yet I tried to give it a somehow realistic look, i.e. not obvious fish organs like membranous fins or scales, but a thicker caudal fin and ventral fins which look more like the webbed feet of an aquatic mammal like an otter.
In this old models there are suprisingly often no monkeys skulls at all involved, but often the jaws of fish. Given the fact that wolf-eels inhabit very cold waters, and that this specimen was perhaps produced in Asia, the teeth belong surely to another kind of fish. Some snappers and porgy can have quite massive teeth as shown below:
I could also imagine that the skin of the tail could belong to a freshwater fish. In Asia various species of cyprinids like normal carps or gras carps as well as many other species are common food-fish. White fish have also often comparably large scales, which you find comparably rarely in marine species. But I could imagine another kind of freshwater fish from Asia would be even more probable. If you look at the elongated body, the large scales and the very long caudal and anal fins, it could also be some species of snakehead.
I do not know the exact way in which this mermaids were made, and an scan which shows the inner construction would be really highly interesting for me. But I know that papermaché was often involved in the production of the models, especially in the head regions of those mermaids which had no monkey heads. It´s more a fine papermaché-clay which was used, and not the stuff most people know as papermaché from skull. I have worked very often with papermaché-clay, and you can sculpt very well such things with it. In the case of this mermaid however, it seems that actualy pieces of paper soaked in glue were used to cover the head, as can be seen on the little wrinkles. Puppet and marionette-heads are often produced in a similar way. The way in which the head is produced show that its creator was probably not the best artist, but well trained to work with this material, as it is really not that easy to work with this stuff.
apologies – I only just saw your comment. Thanks for your thoughts – they’re certainly helpful! I’m not sure if you’ve seen the Horniman webpage for the specimen, which gives some of the results of this, but you might be interested. It’s here: http://www.horniman.ac.uk/exhibitions/featured_detail.php?exhib_id=19&recordID=52
When I have a bit more time I’ll come back to some of your excellent points and suggestions.
My first thought when I saw it was that the skull was from some sort of bat, but not knowing how big the whole thing is, that might be impractical. I like these Friday mystery items!