As COVID-19 forces museums around the world to shut their doors, bored curators have taken to social media to compete over which collection houses the #CreepiestObject. Australia’s contributions may just take the cake.
On April 17, England's Yorkshire Museum issued a call to battle on Twitter, calling on museums around the world to share photos of the creepiest objects in their collections.
"We're kicking things off with this 3rd/4th century hair bun from the burial of a #Roman lady, still with the jet pins in place... CAN YOU BEAT IT?", the tweet read.
The answer to that challenge is a definitive yes. Over the past week, museums around the world have been competing for the title using the hashtag #CreepiestObject, which has unearthed a series of truly baffling and horrifying things.
Take, for instance, Nova Scotia Museum's contribution, titled "something in a jar".
It's a deer, if you were wondering. Meanwhile, a curator from London's National Army Museum submitted a collection of frost-bitten fingertips belonging to Major Michael 'Bronco' Lane, a soldier who lost half his fingers and all toes while climbing Mount Everest in 1976.
Not to be outdone, York Castle Museum contributed a series of "hand-made models of figures playing cards and of gold miners hauling gold nuggets to the surface". That might seem pretty tame, except that the figures are made from crabs' legs and claws.
"Typical Victorians, they loved weird/creepy stuff," the museum tweeted.
Suffice to say it gets weirder still. The Natural Sciences Museum in Scotland contributed this "mermaid", using the hashtag #TroublingTaxidermy.
The museum at Norwich Castle then followed suit with a pincushion decorated with tiny children's heads.
Across the pond, a curator at Ohio's Dayton Art Institute contributed this painting of a creepy baby unsettlingly dressed in adult attire.
In fact, creepy babies were a common theme. Here are a few more, for good measure:
The #CuratorBattle contest has revealed many strange and disturbing things. Case in point: there is a museum in Canada called the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum, dedicated entirely to stuffed gophers posing as people. There is even a documentary about it, titled 'World Famous Gopher Hole Museum'.
It has an unofficial website made by its fans, with an entire section dedicated to a truly disturbing slideshow of dioramas of stuffed gophers illustrating the finer points of Canadian culture.
There are truly no words for such a spectacle.
You might be tempted to think you've seen it all, but we haven't begun to scratch the surface of Australia's #CreepiestObject contributions
Australian museums were a little late to the #CreepiestObject party, but they refuse to be outdone. One staff member at the Australian National Maritime Museum shared a set of dolls made of scrimshaw (aka whale bone) and human hair, writing that "this is what happens when sailors get bored". Our thoughts are with any sailors currently bored due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
In other Australian contributions, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory offered up this microbat in a bottle, adding that "we're not quite sure how it got in there either".
The bat bottle is mounted on a roll of toilet paper, because why not?
On Thursday, the Australian Museum weighed in with this image of a "Jenny Haniver", which raises more questions than it answers.
"Peddled as a dragon from the darkest depths, a Jenny Haniver was in-fact the handy work of seamen faking exotic sea creatures from a far off land," the accompanying tweet reads. "Crafted out of trawled skate, the specimen is manipulated and mummified to resemble the stuff of nightmares".
When The Feed reached out to the Australian Museum to find out more, the museum's Ichthyology Collection manager Amanda Hay explained that there's actually a lot we don't know about the phenomenon.
"A skate is a type of ray -- so you've got your traditional stingrays and manta rays, and a skate is very closely related to those. They're often trawled by commercial fishers," she said.
A 'Jenny Haniver' is a skate that humans have modified and dried, but Hay said that experts don't really know why they're called that, or why humans are modifying dead skates in the first place.
"We don't know why, but it dates back to 1560," she said. "My personal theory is that because they writhe and twist when caught, it's kind of easy to see that they look like these completely weird sea creatures".
Hay said that most of her knowledge of the Jenny Haniver phenomenon comes from a text written by former Australian Museum curator Gilbert Whitley in 1928.
"I have been unable to learn the source of the name Jenny Haniver," Whitley wrote at the time. "Perhaps it belonged to some second-sighted fishwife who long ago imparted lucky qualities to the little effigies to which her name has now been transferred."
Australian Museum staff also pointed out that the Jenny Haniver is far from the collection's weirdest object. By way of example, the museum provided The Feed with an image of "Mr Blobby", part of a family of fishes known as "blobfishes" or "fathead sculpins".
In 2013 Mr Blobby was voted the world's ugliest animal, but Mark McGrouther, who was then the museum's Ichthyology Collection Manager, mounted a passionate pro-Blobby response on the museum's blog.
McGrouther can also be seen in the museum's videos with a rare specimen of a goblin shark, a fish so creepy it was the inspiration for the monster in the film Alien: Covenant.
"We're here in the Australian Museum's sorting and receiving lab because we have a Goblin Shark, which is very, very cool," McGrouther says in the video.
"These are amazing looking animals -- as you can see, they're fairly soft and flabby-looking. They don't have very strong muscles, they're kind of a pinky colour," he continues -- a description that is probably applicable to many Australians during COVID-19 lockdown.
The goblin shark also has talents not yet available to humans in lockdown. The fascinating fish hunts by detecting electricity generated by its prey, at which point it lowers its bottom jaw, which shoots out to spear the prey and swallow it whole.
So, there you go. Happy nightmares, everybody! Enjoy trawling the depths of the #CreepiestObject hashtag here.