Amulets, or small charms made from metal, bone, stone or gems, have long served as protective charms throughout many parts of the world. The ancient Egyptians gave young girls a fish amulet called a nekhau, which they wore around their necks or tied to a lock of hair to help prevent drowning [source: The Met]. Variations of this amulet can be found throughout different cultures, but what's interesting is that each culture changes the design slightly, modeling the amulet after local fish species.
One modern researcher, epidemiologist Christopher Charles, has taken advantage of these charms' power to benefit one Cambodian village's population. In 2008, Charles handed out tiny iron fish amulets — made in the likeness of a popular local fish species — to the village's residents. By urging the residents to cook with the lucky fish in the pot, the researcher virtually eliminated anemia, which had once plagued a large percentage of villagers [source: Smith].
It was the fish design itself that spurred his success: When he'd handed out shapeless lumps of iron for the same purpose, villagers declined to throw them in the pot. It took the so-called lucky likeness of the fish for his plan to work — and to improve the health of the local people.