A team of researchers have started their project to analyze a "mermaid mummy" – a strange-looking creature (or creatures) said to be caught in a fishing net off the coast of present-day Kochi Prefecture, Japan, between 1736 and 1741.
Since its discovery (or, if you're a little more healthily skeptical, since someone sewed a fish to a monkey) the "mermaid" has been kept at the Enjuin temple in Asakuchi, where it has been seen as an object of worship.
“We have worshipped it, hoping that it would help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic even if only slightly,” the head priest told Japanese news outlet Asahi. “I hope the research project can leave (scientific) records for future generations.”
Now, Asahi reports, it is to be studied scientifically for the first time. Researchers from the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts have so far removed the mummy from the temple in order to place it on a CT scanner.
The team will also test DNA samples taken from the mummy, to ascertain what animals have been used to create it – it is believed to be a monkey and a fish. Previous studies have looked at similar animals, including one "mermaid" that turned out to be a fish that was attached to a wire and wood torso, with human hair for a finishing touch.
Perhaps the most famous mermaid hoax was the "Fiji Mermaid", put on display by P. T. Barnum. Barnum advertised the exhibit with drawings of typical mythical mermaids: Beautiful creatures with the head and body of a woman (depicted as naked in the leaflets) attached to the bottom half of a fish. What actually greeted punters when they showed up to see the mermaid was the top half of a monkey, which had been sewn to a fish, and both parts were also extremely dead.
The mermaid was likely created by a Japanese fisherman as a joke. The fisherman claimed the monkey-fish had made a prophecy that everyone on the island would become sterile, and the only cure was to have a picture of the mermaid itself, which handily he could allow for a small fee.
The team will publish their findings on the "mermaid" later this year, though don't hold your breath for confirmation that mermaids are real. According to Hiroshi Kinoshita of the Okayama Folklore Society who first sparked this latest project, another "mermaid" specimen turned out to be a monkey stitched to a salmon.