THE MERMAID OF HARALDSKAER – THE FISHY TALE OF A FISHY TAIL (AND SKELETON!) DISPLAYED AT THE DANISH NATIONAL MUSEUM

by on Feb.26, 2018, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from ShukerNature | Go to Original Post

The mermaid of Haraldskaer’s skeleton, exhibited at the Danish National Museum, Copenhagen (© Danish National Museum – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis, for review purposes only)
Only a few days after watching, and greatly enjoying, Guillermo del Toro’s wonderful fantasy movie The Shape of Water, concerning a captured amphibious humanoid (click hereto read my review of it), earlier today I was asked on Facebook whether I knew anything about the subject of a striking photograph currently doing the rounds on social media sites, including the Fortean Times Appreciation Group on FB. Happily, I knew quite a lot about it, so here is the remarkable history of the mermaid of Haraldskaer.
The photograph in question is the one that opens this present ShukerNature blog article of mine, and shows what seems on first sight to be the skeleton of a mermaid. The photo had been shared on the Fortean Times Appreciation FB group from another such group, Pictures in History, where some brief details of its supposed origin and nature had been provided, and which are as follows.
Allegedly, this skeleton is that of a mermaid that had been found at Haraldskaer in mainland Denmark by a farmer while ploughing his field. And according to a more detailed description presented alongside it at the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen where the mermaid of Haraldskaer has been on display since 2010, it was about 18 years old, with long thick hair and long sharp canines, and also had a purse that contained a shark’s tooth, a snake’s tail, a mussel shell, and a flower (just like any self-respecting mermaid would be expected to keep inside her purse). Its species is claimed to be Hydronymphus pesci, believed extinct since the end of the 17th Century, and apart from a missing left hand the skeleton is complete, much more so than the only other known H. pesci skeleton, apparently held at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, which lacks a tail. Moreover, this species is believed to belong to the Asian lineage of merfolk, thereby making the finding of specimens in Europe especially rare.
Close-up of the tail of the Haraldskaer mermaid skeleton (© Danish National Museum – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis, for review purposes only)
Altogether a fascinating history, but, needless to say, entirely fictitious – although the real version is no less memorable, as will now be revealed.
One of the most famous tourist attractions in Denmark is Erik Eriksen’s charming bronze statue of the eponymous character in Hans Christian Andersen’s delightful 1837 fairytale The Little Mermaid. Eriksen’s sculpture, measuring just 50 in high and weighing 385 lb, was officially unveiled  on 23 August 1913, residing on permanent display thereafter upon a rock at the edge of Copenhagen‘s harbour. Since then, it has been visited, posed alongside, and photographed by millions of tourists from all over the world, including my mother and myself back in 1979, and is officially classed as a National Treasure of Denmark
For much of 2010, however, this fish-tailed icon was temporarily absent from her accustomed site at the harbour side when she starred instead in the Danish Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo, held in Shanghai, China, remaining there from late March to 31 October. So forlorn and forsaken was the rocky prominence upon which she had sat for generations, gazing wistfully across the waters, however, that a plan, or, to be precise, a prank, was hatched to replace her there, if only for a very short time, but with something equally fishy – in every sense.
Erik Eriksen’s statue of The Little Mermaid (© Dr Karl Shuker)
And so it was that on 31 March, just before April Fool’s Day, the skeleton of a mermaid duly appeared in the statue’s stead, sitting on her rock in a similar pose, and heralded with the somewhat macabre announcement to the media that the Little Mermaid had returned. After residing there for two hours, during which time it had attracted considerable attention and photo-snapping from locals and tourists alike, the skeleton was removed and taken to the Danish National Museum where it was on public display throughout the Easter holiday period, and, as far as I am aware, has remained on display ever since (it was certainly still being exhibited there in 2014).
But what is the true nature of this very striking specimen?
It is, of course, a gaff – an artificial construction, consisting of a human skeleton down to and including its hips, plus the tail of a swordfish Xiphias gladius. Its creation and the prank of placing it briefly on show at the harbour during the Little Mermaid’s Chinese leave of absence was the brainchild of  Hanne Strager, the head of exhibitions at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen, and it certainly attracted immense interest – and not just in spring 2010.
The skeleton of the Haraldskaer mermaid as posed upon the Little Mermaid statue’s rock (© Danish National Museum – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis, for review purposes only)
Photographs of the Haraldskaer mermaid skeleton have been circulating widely online ever since, and far more so, unfortunately, than the facts behind them, so that these pictures have incited (and continue to incite) much speculation as to whether the skeleton is actually genuine. Not only that, in an all-too-familiar trend seen on the Net with unusual images, they have even inspired various entirely new, but equally fictitious histories for it.
Consequently, I have seen some sites claiming that the skeleton has been the subject of much controversy since being discovered in Poland(!), and even in Indonesia – one site affirming that it had been discovered in Surabaya, on the island of Java.
A popular expression is that you can’t keep a good man (or woman) down. Neither, it would seem, can you keep a good mermaid down, nor even, at the risk of mixing metaphors even further, can the internet let sleeping mermaids lie – even ones that never existed to begin with!
My mother Mary Shuker and I visiting the Little Mermaid in 1979 (© Dr Karl Shuker)

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