People did odd things in the 16th Century

by Rachel Baker on June 6, 2014

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Harvard has recently confirmed one of the books in the university’s library was, most likely, bound in human skin. I say ‘most likely’ because it could be possible it is great ape or a gibbon.

This was common practice in the 16th century. They used to bind confessions with the criminal’s skin; and you could even have a book bound in your skin for posterity sake for your family or loved ones.

And while maybe progress is the root of all evil, I’m really glad we found better ways to bind our books.

Scientists at Harvard have confirmed that a 19th-century French treatise in the university’s libraries is almost surely bound in human skin, thus ending months of uncertainty and setting off a torrent of online Hannibal Lecter (get it?) jokes.

The book, Arsène Houssaye’s “Des destinées de l’ame” (On the Destiny of the Soul), came under renewed attention in April, after researchers concluded that another book at Harvard previously thought to be an example of anthropodermic bibliopegy — as the practice of binding books in human flesh is known — was in fact bound in sheepskin.

The Houssaye book, deposited at Harvard’s Houghton Library in 1934, contains a manuscript note claiming that the book was bound in skin taken from the back of a woman, since “a book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering.” Researchers confirmed the claim using several techniques, including peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF), which identifies proteins.

“The PMF from ‘Des destinées de l’ame’ matched the human reference, and clearly eliminated other common parchment sources, such as sheep, cattle and goat,” Bill Lane, the director of the Harvard Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Resource Laboratory, and Daniel Kirby, of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, told the Houghton Library Blog.

Read the Articles:
Harvard Confirms Book Is Bound in Human Skin

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