Hundreds of years ago, European sailors placed carved mermaids on the front of their ships as figureheads and told tales of sighting mermaids. Other cultures told their own myths of water spirits. When European ships arrived in Africa, people saw these mermaid figureheads and sometimes used them as models for their own water spirits. Later on, African slaves brought their water spirits to the Americas.

Image credits: main image, © AMNH/Sean Murtha; Laurel Kendall: courtesy of AMNH.