Wednesday, September 07, 2011
In true Barnum tradition, neither the mermaid on display nor Barnum himself were exactly authentic. The latter was played by Silas Hawkins, while the mermaid was a model made for the CFZ by special effects wizard Alan Friswell.
Spontaneous generation is an old, now forgotten idea first expounded by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. It is one of those ideas that make you wonder just what people were thinking back then. Basically the idea is that creatures could be generated from rotting flesh; for example it was believed that rotting meat generated maggots, the spinal columns of dead humans grew into snakes, and dead lions brought forth bees. Anyone bothering to watch dead meat in warm weather for any length of time would have seen flies laying eggs on the meat and the eggs hatching into maggots. But it seemed no-one bothered to do this, and Aristotle’s word went largely unchallenged up until the time of Louis Pasteur in the 19th Century.
Aristotle held that pneuma, or the breath of life, was present in non-living matter, was a mixture of elements and acted as a generative printable.
There are a number of legends that attest to monsters developing from the decaying remains of human beings:
At Norton Fitzwarren in Somerset, the Roman general Ostorius was said to have killed hundreds of ancient Britons. Over the centuries a dragon is said to have grown from the corruption of the rotting bodies. The dragon took up residence in an Iron Age hill fort and preyed on the populace until Fulk Fitzwarine, a 13th Century knight, slew the creature. Despite his brave deed Fulk fell foul of King John and was exiled, but he continued his adventures abroad when he saved the Duke of Iberia’s daughter from a dragon near Carthage.
Gashadokuro is found in the folklore of Japan. It is a titanic animated skeleton fifteen times taller than a man, and is composed of the bones of people who died of starvation that have aggregated in to a huge cannibalistic spirit. It is animated by the deads’ anger at their own horrid deaths. They stalk the night making a "gachi gachi" sound. If this monster catches a human it will bite off their head. The appearance of a Gashadokuro is foretold by a ringing in one’s ears.
In one story, a man from Bingo (the old name for an area in east Hiroshima) was out in the fields one night when he heard a strange voice complaining about a pain it its eye. In the morning, the man located the weather-beaten skull of a Gashadokuro, and was able to appease it by removing the bamboo shoots that had grown up through its eye socket, and by leaving a bowl of dried boiled rice as an offering.
The feudal lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni (1628-1701) supposedly battled a Gashadokuro summoned by a magician.
In a story from the 10th Century a provincial warlord called Taira-no-Masakado led a coup against an outpost of the central government until he was killed by his cousin Sadamori. He was dismembered and beheaded as a warning to others, but his head carried on living. It leered and laughed and eventually flew away. His daughter, outraged at the treatment of her father’s body, preyed at the ancient Kifune Shrine in Kyoto until her outrage was given form as a monstrous skeleton.
Likewise the Itsumaden has its creation from the dead.The Taihei chronicles, a 40-volume history of the war between the Northern and Southern Courts which took place between 1336 and 1392, tells of a monster bird manifesting over the capital’s ceremonial hall at night. It first appeared on an autumn night in 1334, when it spat fire and wailed in a woe begotten voice “Itsumademo! Itsumademo!” meaning “How much longer? How much longer?”
The monster caused worry in the hall so the nobles hired an archer called Hiroari to shoot the beast down. On examination of the carcass they found it had the head of a human but with a bird-like beak, the body of a snake, bird’s wings and dagger-like talons. Its wingspan was about sixteen feet.
Hiroari was rewarded with two large estates in the province of Inaba.
The Itsumaden had manifested at the time of a great plague when vast piles of human corpses had been dumped outside the city. It was thought that the yokai bird was a creation of the spirits of the dead, angry at their neglect.
It was also thought that a person who starved to death could return as an Itsumaden that would moan “Itsumade, Itsumade” (How long, how long?)
On this day in 1888 the body of the second of canonical victims of Jack the Ripper, Anne Chapman was discovered. A relative of mine (great to the power of several uncle iirc) named John Fitzgerald confessed to this murder at Wandsworth police station after having only had a pint or two (reports at the time are keen to state he was not drunk although had been drinking) and was almost formally charged after being in custody for a few days when at the 11th hour someone provided him with an alibi. It is also quite probable that he was the 'shabby, genteel man' seen in Chapman's company not long before her murder that police had hoped to trace, he was also seen using a knife of a size corresponding with the murder weapon in a pub shortly before his very detailed confession to the police. Without the alibi it is rather likely that he would have been charged and hung for the murder of Chapman.
And now the news:
Migrating birds rescued at Newgale after high wind...
Stranded baby whale rescued in Humber
Philippines creates haven for endangered duck
Record flock of migrating Sociable Lapwings record...
Wildlife flocks to dairy farm habitats
Encouraging signs from Northern white rhinos – But...
Feds seek resolution to narwhal tusk trade ban
Unidentified cat in Norfolk
By the time they saw him coming it was too late:
Back in 2008 I reported on a 30-foot crocodile that lurked in Agusan Marsh - a huge wetland covering 14,835.989 hectares in eastern Mindanao in the Philippines. The giant was nicknamed Potol (slasher) by the local people. The creature bit the head off a girl who was rowing across the marsh, the event being witnessed by a local fisherman. The girl’s body was uneaten and it seems that the attack was a territorial one. The girl’s companion, who was rescued by the fisherman, said her oar had hit something in the water that she thought was a submerged tree. It seems that the tree was in fact Potol, who thought a rival male was challenging him. In the ensuing panic, a whole floating village was evacuated.
Now a huge crocodile has been captured alive in Agusan Marsh. At 21 feet long, he is the biggest crocodile ever caught alive but he’s not Potol. The creature, weighing over one ton was snared near Bunawan Township after a three week hunt, during which bait was taken and the steel cable traps destroyed. This specimen is 3 feet longer than Cassius, an Indo-Pacific croc in captivity in Australia, and a foot longer than Yai, an Indo-Pacific / Siamese hybrid held on a crocodile farm in Thailand.
It took 100 people to drag the crocodile to a clearing where it was moved with a crane to a temporary enclosure. Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde plans to create an ecotourism park with the huge crocodile as the star. Film shows the unharmed crocodile being released into a pool. It is being kept away from the public to reduce stress.
This is a good turn of events for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that attitudes to crocodiles are changing. No one wants to kill the beasts any more (killing a crocodile in the Philippines carries a heavy prison sentence, quite rightly) but to preserve it in an eco-park. The crocodile will provide an excellent tourist attraction and may be a valuable breeding animal if provided with females. The hatchlings can be kept until they are large enough to fend for themselves and can then be returned to the wild.
Secondly, in captivity, if well looked after, this already huge crocodile may become a super giant. With regular feedings, providing more food than it would get in the wild, the animal can put all its energy into growth. It will not have to expend energy on hunting or fighting rival males for mates. Ten years down the line he may have reached the 23-24-foot size bracket. Imagine a crocodile of that size on show to the public. What an ambassador for his species and for the preservation of those in the wild.
Crocs of this size are rare but still occur in certain areas: the remote parts of Northern Australia, New Guinea, parts of Borneo, parts of Eastern India, parts of Indonesia and parts of East and Central Africa. It is thrilling to think that such beasts still roam the earth and that some places are still wild.
And back in Agusan Marsh, Potol, the king of the crocodiles, still rules as un-challenged monarch.
Next one up also at Frontiers of Anthropology: