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'Mermaid bones' on show at Japanese temple


Posted on Friday, 17 February, 2017 | Comment icon 21 comments

Ryuguji temple currently houses the remains. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 Soramimi
The remains of what some people believe to be a genuine mermaid can be found at Ryuguji temple.
Mermaids in Japan, which are more commonly known as ningyo, are rather unlike those depicted in movies and fairy tales. Far from being the glamorous fair-haired beauties of the deep akin to Ariel in Disney's 'The Little Mermaid', these mythological denizens are more like fish than women and come equipped with menacing horns and rows of dagger-like teeth.

According to reports, the skeletal remains of one of these creatures can actually be found on display at Ryuguji temple in the city of Fukuoka. The specimen allegedly dates back to the 13th century and was found after it washed ashore in Hakata Bay on the Japanese island of Kyushu.

The story goes that a shaman declared its appearance to be a good omen and its bones were buried beneath Ukimido temple in a place known as "undersea palace of the dragon god."
Today only six of the bones still exist, however it remains unclear what species they belonged to.

Some have suggested that the remains that washed up all those centuries ago were actually those of a finless porpoise - an unusual-looking marine mammal with a distinct lack of a dorsal fin.

It is certainly not outside the realms of possibility that the locals might have mistaken the decomposing carcass of one of these animals for that of a mythological creature.

Source: Smithsonian Magazine | Comments (21)

Tags: Mermaid, Japan

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #12 Posted by Black Monk on 18 February, 2017, 11:24
It says in the OP that they are the bones of a ningyo, which literally means "human fish" in Japanese. Catching one was believed to bring storms and misfortune, so fishermen who caught these creatures were said to throw them back into the sea. A ningyo washed onto the beach was an omen of war or calamity.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Setton on 18 February, 2017, 11:32
Definitely not fish bones. Some kind of mammal as oldrover says. Middle one looks like a leg bone, possible sheep but osteology really isn't my area.
Comment icon #14 Posted by White Unicorn on 18 February, 2017, 14:18
Looks like bones of a mammal to me. I think that finding old bones of what people in the mermaid believing cultures held to be bone of mermen and such should be analyzed carefully to give us more insight to what they called mermaids.  It could be like the yeti hair and bones in a temple that showed it was  an extinct species of bear after modern analysis. 
Comment icon #15 Posted by oldrover on 18 February, 2017, 14:34
I do agree with the main point of your post. But the yeti bones weren't an extinct bear. Bryan Sykes carried out a characteristically flawed DNA analysis of some Himalayan samples which he then calimed were a match for an ancient polar bear sample (about 100 kya I think) from Svalbard in Norway. His methodology was shown to be wrong, again, and the results of later more thorough work showed them to be within the range of the two brown bear species of the area. Not a polar bear/local brown bear hybrid as he claimed.  Other samples examined have been shiwn to bear, but again thise soecies known ... [More]
Comment icon #16 Posted by White Unicorn on 18 February, 2017, 14:36
Thanks for the update.
Comment icon #17 Posted by oldrover on 18 February, 2017, 14:51
No problem. It's unfortunate when someone like Sykes comes along to add some ckairty to a question, but actually just ends up confusing it further. 
Comment icon #18 Posted by docyabut2 on 19 February, 2017, 0:43
the ancients use to put old animal and dinosaur  bones together to scare people  
Comment icon #19 Posted by Setton on 19 February, 2017, 11:12
That's fascinating but it still doesn't make mammal bones into fish bones.
Comment icon #20 Posted by Black Monk on 19 February, 2017, 13:05
They're the bones of a ningyo. It says so in the article. There really is no mystery here.
Comment icon #21 Posted by capeo on 23 February, 2017, 1:14
Those are stifle joints on what seems to be a femur. It's hard to judge the scale but the the very defined condyles are from a land mammal not an aquatic mammal. The vertebrae and chunk of skull are most certainly not from the same animal. They're far too small to come from whatever animal had those leg bones. The leg bones look like a horse femur, tibia and ilium really.


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