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Inside the Horniman Merman

On display in our Centenary Gallery is an object from the Natural History collection which tends to grab people's attention: the Horniman Merman.

Thanks to careful research by our Deputy Keeper of Natural History Paolo Viscardi, we are now able to reveal some of the secrets of our mysterious merman, as well as tell the story of how 'mermaids' such as ours came to be.

The secrets of the Horniman Merman have been revealed with a combination of X-rays, CT scans and even DNA analysis.

  • A 3D model of the merman built using the CT data, Here you can see clearly how different materials were used to build up the merman's shape
    Here you can see clearly how different materials were used to build up the merman's shape

While it has long been described as a 'monkey-fish', we revealed a while ago that this was not an accurate description of our specimen. Paolo's research now goes further, looking at mermaid specimens across Europe.


Mermaids have a presence across a wide range of museum collections, and have always sparked curiosity. Our own was originally part of the Wellcome Collection, who have also been blogging about their connection to these strange specimens. There is even an exciting hint at the possibility of a new mermaid exhibition in the near future.

The merman and his kind also feature in today's Animal Magic blog post on the Guardian website.

You can also read Paolo's blog post introducing his research.

We'll be sharing more about the Horniman Merman and similar specimens on Twitter today. Follow the hashtag #mermania to join the discussion.

A Mysterious Sword

We have a mysterious sword in our collection. It looks like a dha from Burma, but it was collected over one thousand miles away from there in a region of North West Pakistan called Chitral.

  • Chitrali Sword, One of the more mysterious objects in our collection
    One of the more mysterious objects in our collection

Chitral is quite different from the areas around it. In fact it only officially became part of Pakistan in 1969. Our sword was collected in 1895 when the British invaded Chitral to relieve a British garrison which had become besieged there, and also to exert British control over the region.

We invited Shah Hussein and Muntazir Ali, two members of the Chitrali community in London, to the museum to try and help solve the mystery of the sword.

  • Viewing the Chitral Sword, Assitant Curator Tom Crowley discussed the rather mysterious object with our visitors
    Assitant Curator Tom Crowley discussed the rather mysterious object with our visitors

They thought that the sword could have found its way to Chitral as a gift between ruling elites. Although Chitral would have had no direct dealings with Burma, the sword could have travelled across India state by state: a gift which was passed on again and again.

Shah and Muntazir also suggested that the sword could have come to Chitral with a soldier in the British army, the makeup of which was very diverse, although there were no specifically Burmese units in it.

  • Viewing the Chitral Sword, Muntazir and Shah share their thoughts about the sword's origin
    Muntazir and Shah share their thoughts about the sword's origin

Muntazir and Shah found it strange in some ways, but unsurprising in others, to come across the sword so far away from their homeland. It brought to mind folk memories of the siege and a sense of pride, still felt today, that Chitralis had come together to resist the British. But the sword also served as a reminder of the violence from which the regions around Chitral have suffered in recent years.

What do you want to know?

Our team working on Collections, People, Stories have made a fantastic find in the stores.

An Unusual Find

It was found in our anthropology collection, which we're hoping to learn a lot more about during this three-year collections review.

The team have been investigating, and we've learnt a little about this object, but there's still more to be discovered. 

What questions do you want to ask about this object?

Leave a comment here, on Flickr or on Twitter @HornimanMuseum, and we'll try and answer your questions (if we can!).


Update: Everyone in the stores is really taken with this fascinating object, and there's been some real detective teamwork going on.

Thanks to Paolo and the Natural History Collection, we can reveal that the skull pictured here wrapped in leather is thought to be that of a Lappett-faced Vulture.

Intriguing cheese horse - what can you tell us?

A few weeks ago, we found an intriguing object in our collections - a horse made of cheese.

Cheese horse

We don't know a lot about this horse - it's made from cheese, it's from Poland, and came into our collections in the 1950s.

What can you tell us about it? Take a look at our video below, and leave a comment on flickr or on our blog here if you can shed light on the cheese horse.

We found the cheese horse while working on a three-year project, called Collections People Stories, to review our anthropology collections. We're hoping to find out more about the collections, what they are and what they mean to our visitors and communities.

Update: London's Polish Cultural Institute pointed out another cheese horse in Krakow's Ethnographic Museum. Their cheese horse - called Bar'ańczyk - is made from sheep's cheese, and was a toy gift for children.


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