A mysterious Japanese 'mermaid' mummy thought to cure COVID is actually a grotesque, centuries-old talisman made of pufferfish skin and animal hair, researchers find
- A mummified "mermaid" was caught in a fishing net in the 1700s and kept as a sacred object in Japan.
- Researchers discovered the mysterious artifact was made of bones, pufferfish skin, and animal hair.
Pufferfish skin, hair from unidentified mammals, and the fins and bones of several sea creatures: the origin of a 300-year-old "mermaid" mummy, thought by priests of Japan's Enjuin temple to have healing powers, has been revealed by researchers at long last.
The mummified artifact, made of animal parts adhered with metal pins to a doll shape stuffed with cloth, is one of 13 "mermaids" researchers from the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts have identified in Japan, owned mainly by temples and museums.
After being stored in a fireproof safe at the Enjuin temple for the last 40 years to prevent it from deteriorating, the 12-inch long mummy was x-rayed and underwent CT scans conducted by KUSA researchers over the last year to determine what it was made of and what it may have been used for.
"The teeth are all conical and the tips are slightly curved backwards (inside the mouth). The jaw of a carnivorous fish of unknown species," researchers wrote in a statement released this month about the mermaid, the body of which is painted with sand or charcoal powder. "Both arms with five fingers and flat claws. The lower body has dorsal fins, anal fins, anal fins, and caudal fins, and is covered with scales."
The scans also revealed that the creature features animal keratin for its nails and the hair on the body is that of mammals, though no DNA could be retrieved.
Representatives for the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
The exact creation date of the mummy remains unknown, though it has been stored for decades in a box with a memo indicating it was caught in a fishing net off the coast of Kochi during the Genbun era, which spanned from 1736 to 1740.
Researchers said in a statement that the mermaid was supposed to have been brought to Osaka by a fisherman and sold, and was purchased by an ancestor of Mr. Naojo Kojima of the Bingo Fukuyama clan, a feudal lord during the Edo period, who later made it an heirloom of the Kojima family — though the researchers did not confirm their ownership.
Despite the note claiming the mummy was caught in the 1700s, radiocarbon dating of the creature found that it was actually assembled in the 1800s.
"The fish body of the 'Dried Mermaid' in the collection of Enjuin is covered with the skin of a croaker, and the upper body is made of cloth and paper. It is made of laminated paper and puffer fish skin on a base of cotton padding and plaster-like substance, and is presumed to have been made around the late 1800s," researchers concluded.
While it is unclear how it came into possession of the Enjuin temple, Hiroshi Kinoshita of the Okayama Folklore Society told UK news site Metro that the mummy could be of religious importance.
"Japanese mermaids have a legend of immortality," he said. "It is said that if you eat the flesh of a mermaid, you will never die. There is a legend in many parts of Japan that a woman accidentally ate the flesh of a mermaid and lived for 800 years."
Kozen Kuida, chief priest at Enjuin temple in Asakuchi city, told Japanese news site Asahi Shimbun that the mummy had indeed been seen as sacred, possibly with mystic powers.
"We have worshipped it, hoping that it would help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic even if only slightly," Kuida said.
Kuida likened the mermaid mummy to a folklore creature called Amabie, described as mermaids with distinct tail fins and beaks instead of mouths, which are believed to have had the power to fend off plagues.
The mummy also resembles a Japanese monster called a Ningyo, LiveScience reported, which are fish creatures with human heads.
Both types of creatures are associated with long life and miraculous health cures.
"When I was young, I was excited to read stories about yokai and legendary creatures in boys' magazines," Takashi Kato, one of the researchers, said in a statement. "I never thought, decades later, that I would be exposed to something like that and have the opportunity to study it first hand."
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