Mystery of Japan's sacred 'mummified mermaid' is finally solved

The tale of an ancient mummified ‘mermaid’ has finally been resolved after scientists spent the last year studying it.

Allegedly caught in the Pacific Ocean, off the Japanese island of Shikoku, between 1736 and 1741 – the creature has been worshipped for hundreds of years.

According to folklore, the 30cm-tall creature grants immortality to anyone who tastes its flesh.

The creature has two hands reaching up towards its grimacing face. Hair is still visible on its head and it has the remains of sharp, pointy teeth in its mouth. But its body gives way to a distinctly fish-like tail.

Scientists have puzzled over the finding – which usually rests in the Enjuin Temple in the city of Asakuchi in Japan – for years.

It’s unclear how or when the mummy came to the temple but chief priest, Kozen Kuida, said it was put on display in a glass case some 40 years ago and is now kept in a fireproof safe.

‘We have worshipped it, hoping that it would help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic even if only slightly,’ he told The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

However, over the last twelve months researchers have subjected the mermaid to a battery of tests to determine if its an organic creature or not.

Researchers from the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts used CT scans and other high-tech tests to determine that, sadly, the creature is completely artificial.

They discovered the ‘mermaid’ was made of paper, cloth and cotton – with no evidence of any skeleton at all.

And while the scientists did find some animal remains attached to the figure, they determined these had been added by whoever created it.

The lower-half of the body does indeed come from a fish’s tail or fin. The scientists write in their study that it is a combination of ‘Dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins, the fin bones that support the fins, and the caudal skeleton.’

Meanwhile, it’s jaw and teeth are also taken from a fish while the fuzz on its head originally came from a mammal.

Radiocarbon dating showed that the subject dates back to the late 1800s, which fits with the team’s initial estimations for when it was made.

A historic letter dated to 1903 – apparently penned by a former owner – was stored alongside the mummy and gives a story about its provenance.

‘A mermaid was caught in a fish-catching net in the sea off Kochi Prefecture,’ the letter states.

‘The fishermen who caught it did not know it was a mermaid, but took it to Osaka and sold it as unusual fish.

‘My ancestors bought it and kept it as a family treasure.’

In Japanese folklore, there exists a creature called the ningyo, which is described as having a monkey’s mouth with fish-like teeth and a body covered in golden scales.

But now, thanks to the science, we know the truth.

Takafumi Kato, a palaeontologist working on the project, told VICE: ‘Based on our analysis and the history of mummy creation in Japan, we can only conclude that the mermaid mummy was probably man made.’

Mystery solved.

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