Mummified mermaid valentines to be reunited after forensic testing

Professor Belinda Colston, Director of Research at the School of Life Sciences has been helping a Conservation and Restoration Masters student to find out more about a mysterious mermaid in the Forensic Conservation Department.

Disney she is not: the Buxton MermaidMermaids have been a source of curiosity and intrigue for centuries; but when Anita Hollinshead – Conservation and Restoration Masters student from the University of Lincoln – came across a mysterious, apparently mummified, mermaid she was determined to find out more about her and may have uncovered a rather ghoulish love story along the way.

Anita first discovered the source of her study, the Buxton Mermaid – thought to be of ancient Japanese origin and now held in the collections of Derbyshire County Council at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery – whilst working at the gallery as Museum Development Officer for Derbyshire.

“I remember thinking that the Buxton Mermaid didn’t look like the beautiful mermaids you see in paintings or read about. I instantly wanted to know what she was made of, how she was constructed, where she might have come from and the best ways to preserve her for years to come,” she said.

Fake Mermaids, sometimes known as ‘Monkey-fish’, were popular in the 19th century, although there are examples dating back to the 16th century. Many were created by fisherman in Japan and the Far East and sold as mummified mermaids to supplement their income. They were usually bought by sailors as good luck charms, or by collectors who would display them in cabinets of curiosities or at sideshows.

Anita discovered some of the secrets to the Buxton Mermaid through a series of tests carried out on-site at the University of Lincoln.

Professor Belinda Colston, Director of Research at the School of Life Sciences invited Anita to bring the Mermaid to the Forensic Conservation Department. Here, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Science and forensic photographer David Padley, captured the mermaid in more detail than can be seen with the naked eye and a forensic anthropologist was able to confirm that there was no human skeletal material included in the head – despite the mermaid’s skull-like appearance.

Further tests, including x-rays using a phosphorous plate, were then carried out with help from Chris Robinson and Jo Wright, at the Conservation Department at the University to determine how the mermaid was constructed. This enabled Anita to conclude its construction was based upon an armature of wood and wire with a real fish’s tail. Other tests will, hopefully, establish what the mermaid’s hair, ‘skin’, teeth and eyes are made from.

While discovering how the mermaid was constructed was on her list of objectives, finding out that she used to reside in the Wellcome Institution for the History of Medicine with a merman (now at the Horniman Museum) was a surprise. During her research, Anita contacted Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman Museum, Paolo Viscardi. By sheer coincidence, he was in the process of researching the Horniman’s Merman.

Their research suggests that the Buxton Mermaid and the Horniman Merman were last together in 1982 in the collections of the Wellcome Institution. As a result of this project, they will be reunited in March for a special exhibition and presentation of mermaid research at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibition runs from March 19th until May 13th, during which time Paolo, Anita and Ross MacFarlane from the Wellcome Collection will present their research.

“It’s been so exciting to see the reaction that this research has generated. Mermaids really spark people’s imagination,” said Anita. “Although I have been able to find out quite a lot about the Buxton Mermaid she is still in many ways a mysterious creature and I don’t think we’ll ever uncover her whole story”.

The next phase of Anita’s research will be the design of a stand to adequately support the Mermaid whilst she is on display, and the creation of guidelines for the future interpretation, storage and display of the Mermaid in response to the findings of this project.

For more information please contact Emma O’Neill, Media Officer, University of Lincoln. e: m: 07530390698


BBC 1’s Bang Goes the Theory team films at Riseholme

BBC 1 visited the Riseholme campus to film for the new series of Bang Goes the Theory. The BBC crew have been working with Daniel Mills and colleagues including Sian Ryan and Anna Wilkinson for a programme that will test dogs’ intelligence and look at how they learn.

Danny Mills Dallas and Liz Bang Goes the Theory

Presenters Dallas Campbell and Liz Bonnin appeared alongside Daniel as he worked with several dogs and their owners to tight timescales, to see how well the dogs would learn a series of tasks. The University team then accompanied the BBC to a dog show, to complete the filming.

For more on Bang Goes the Theory visit

Lincoln academic’s work is New Scientist’s cover feature

The main feature on the cover of the New Scientist’s Christmas and New Year issue highlights work by Dr Anna Wilkinson into cognition in reptiles:

Animal behaviour student crowned international faculty champion

United States student, Justin Moorman, received the Faculty Champion Award for the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Animal Sciences, at the International Office’s Prizegiving event in October.

Justin (pictured below, right, with professor Daniel Mills), who is studying the MSc Clinical Animal Behaviour, received his £1000 prize from Professor Daniel Mills, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and European veterinary behaviour specialist, at a special prizegiving for international students from all disciplines and countries, attended by the University’s Vice Chancellor Mary Stuart.

Professor Daniel Mills and Justin Moorman
Professor Daniel Mills with Justin Moorman

As a Registered Veterinary Technician (veterinary nurse) in the United States, Justin decided to seek out a specialist behaviour degree, and says: “I was looking for a quality behaviour programme with a sound scientific basis.” The MSc Clinical Animal Behaviour is an innovative course which equips students with the knowledge to manage problem behaviour in companion animals and provides them with skills to start their own business within the discipline.

He continues: “The course is very intense, but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing. I’m enjoying the discussion between lecturers, PhD students, and MSc students. There’s a good flow and exchange of ideas between people.”

Justin, who comes from the United States Midwest (Kentucky, which has the nickname of “The Dark and Bloody Ground” because of all the Native American feuds that were fought for control over it) hopes to study a funded PhD after completing his MSc, to make a career in behavioural research, with his ultimate goal being to improve understanding of animals and improve their welfare on a large scale.

Following the ceremony, students and staff were treated to a wonderfully colourful start to Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. International students currently studying across the University had spent many hours rehearsing the for the evening, which included South Asian dance performances, both individually, as well as a group for a “Bollywood” type routine. Many of the performers wore traditional dress, adding to the authenticity of the evening. There were also individual performances from students reciting poetry or signing traditional songs in their native languages.

The International Office is deeply committed to promoting the spirit of internationalisation and has developed a calendar of activities to celebrate culture differences as represented by all our international students. This includes celebrating festivals important to many of the international cultures, including a North American Thanksgiving in November, Australia Day in January, and Chinese New Year in February.