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Scientists study the mummified "mermaid" 300 years ago

Added Wed, 09/03/2022
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Wed, 09/03/2022
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Researchers in Japan are investigating the origins of a nightmarish 300-year-old mummified "mermaid" that has been worshipped for centuries because of its supposed medicinal properties.

The nightmarish remains are most likely a creepy mixture of a monkey's torso sewn to the tail of a fish, and possibly decorated with human hair and nails. 

Hiroshi Kinoshita, a board member of the Okayama Folklore Society, discovered a mermaid mummy about 30.5 cm long in a box in one of the temples of Okayama Prefecture. He first learned about the mummy after he found a photo of a bizarre specimen in the encyclopedia of mythical creatures.

According to a note left in the box, the mummy was caught by a fisherman between 1736 and 1741, and then sold to a wealthy family. Researchers still don't know exactly how the mermaid ended up in the temple, according to the Japanese news site The Asahi Shimbun.

Now Takafumi Kato, a paleontologist at the Kurashiki University of Science and Arts, and his colleagues have begun to study the origin of the mummy after Kinoshita convinced the temple to allow scientists to examine the unusual remains.

On February 2, scientists took pictures of the mummy using computed tomography. The researchers will also take DNA samples to determine which species were combined to create the mermaid. According to them, the team will release its results later this year. 

The mermaid mummy somewhat resembles two mythical creatures from Japanese folklore: Amabi - mermaids with a beak instead of a mouth and three separate tail fins - and Ningio, which are fish-like creatures with human heads.

Both of these types of creatures are associated with stories of miraculous healings and an increase in life expectancy. In one famous story, a woman Yao Bikuni lived 800 years after accidentally eating a whole ningyo, according to the British news website Metro. 

The priests of the temple consider the mummy an omen of good health.

"We worshipped her, hoping that she would help ease the coronavirus pandemic at least a little," the chief priest of the Kozen Kuida temple told the Asahi Shimbun. 

Previously, the mummy was displayed in the temple in a glass case so that visitors could pray to it, but for the last 40 years it has been stored in a fireproof safe inside the temple so as not to collapse. Similar mummies of mermaids were revered in two other temples in Japan.

These supposedly fake mermaids were most likely created by locals to sell to curious Western tourists, scientists say.

A similar hoax, known as the Fiji Mermaid, was sold to Dutch travelers in Japan in the 1810s, then resold to English merchants, after which it was sent to the USA, where it became part of the famous collection of P.T. Barnum (the real mastermind of the film "The Greatest Showman").

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 say they hope the new study will add to the legacy of the mummified mermaid and help her live in folklore in the future.

"I hope that the research project will be able to leave scientific records for future generations," Kuida said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

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