After nearly a year of research, scientists at the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts in Japan have concluded their study of a mummified mermaid that was housed in Japan’s Souther Enjuin shrine for centuries. The 30-centimeter body was a remarkable and peculiar temple attraction for generations of devotees until the last year.
Using a CT scanner, the researchers determined that the mummy was not an animal but an object made of paper, cloth, and cotton. Radiocarbon dating of the scales of the mummy’s body revealed that it was likely made in the latter part of the 1800s.
The X-rays showed the mummy was missing essential skeleton bones, including a spine, head, and ribs. The lower part of the body had bones of fish, which could be coming from tails or a dorsal fin. The jaw and teeth were carnivore fish–the only bone in the head. The shoulders, arms, and neck were covered in puffer-like fish skin.
The researchers could not provide a reason for the purpose behind the doll or who was the person responsible for the creation, but they did say it was likely related to merfolk, which is believed to date back to the 8th century. This is first referenced in “Nihon Shoki” (“Chronicle of Japan”), which describes an event in 619 CE when an animal that was neither a fish nor a human was taken from the river by a fisherman.
Another dozen mummies of mermaids have been discovered throughout Japan, but the one from Okayama prefecture is the first to be studied closely. These objects were believed to have been made since the Edo period (1603-1868) when measles and smallpox were prevalent. The belief was that looking at these rare animals could bring luck.
The temple’s top Priest, Kozen Kuida, said the mummy would continue to be a distinctive aspect of the millennia-old temple. He said, “It’s similar to when people clasp their hands before Buddhist statues made of wood or stone. So I’d like to continue to preserve and pass on this mummy with the greatest care.”