(ORDO NEWS) — Japanese researchers are investigating the origins of a nightmarish 300-year-old mummified “mermaid” that has been worshiped for centuries for the creature’s supposed healing powers. It turned out that the remains are a terrible mixture of the torso of a monkey, sewn to the tail of a fish and decorated with human hair and nails.
Hiroshi Kinoshita, board member of the Okayama Folklore Society, discovered a mummy of a mermaid about 30.5 cm long in a box at a temple in Okayama Prefecture. He first became aware of the mummy after finding a picture of a strange specimen in an encyclopedia of mythical creatures.
Supposedly, a fisherman fished a specimen sometime between 1736 and 1741 and then sold it to a wealthy family – this information was in a note left in a box with a mummy. Researchers still don’t know exactly how the mermaid ended up inside the temple, according to Japanese news site The Asahi Shimbun .
Takafumi Kato, a paleontologist at Kurashiki University of Science and Arts, and colleagues began to study the mummy’s origins after Kinoshita convinced the temple to allow scientists to examine the unusual remains.
On February 2, scientists took a picture of the mummy using computed tomography (here is a link to a video of this process). They also plan to take DNA samples to determine which creature parts were used to make the creepy mummy. The team plans to publish the results of their work later this year.
The mummy of the mermaid is somewhat reminiscent of two mythical creatures from Japanese folklore: amabi – mermaids with beaks instead of mouths and three tail fins – and ningyo, fish-like creatures with human heads.
Both of these types of creatures are associated with stories of miraculous healing and increased lifespan. One famous tale says that a woman named Yao Bikuni lived to be 800 years old after she accidentally ate a whole ningyo.
The priests of the temple look at the mummy as a source of health and longevity. “We worshiped him, hoping that it would help to at least slightly mitigate the coronavirus pandemic,” the head priest of the Kozen Kuida temple told The Asahi Shimbun.
The mummy used to be displayed in a glass case for visitors, but has spent the last 40 years in a fireproof vault inside the temple to prevent its destruction. According to The Asahi Shimbun, similar mermaid mummies were worshiped at two other temples in Japan.
What lies behind the myth
The mermaids were most likely crafted by locals to sell them to curious Western tourists and lure them into sightseeing.
A similar hoax known as the “Fiji Mermaid” was sold to Dutch travelers in Japan in the 1810s and then resold to English merchants. Those, in turn, sent it to the United States, where it became part of the famous Barnum collection. It is believed that this 91 cm long mermaid was made from the body of an orangutan and the tail of a salmon.
Priests at a temple in Okayama Prefecture hope the new study will add to the legacy of the mummified mermaid and help her live in the folklore of the future. “I hope the research project can leave a scientific record for future generations,” Kuida told The Asahi Shimbun.
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