Experts Agree: One In Three Harvard Library Books Not Bound In Human Skin
After an investigation by a Harvard conservation scientist, it would appear that a book of Spanish law published in the early 1600's thought to be bound in human skin in in fact covered in sheepskin.
The study was conducted after the story of three books at Harvard's library that may be covered in human skin resurfaced in the news over the last few weeks. Speculation about this particular book's materials started due to an odd inscription inside:
The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Mbesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace.
However, tests of the proteins sampled from the book prove it is not human skin. Not today, anyway. One theory regards the fact that the book was originally published between the years 1605 and 1606 while the note inside refers to the year 1632. This may hint at the possibility that the book had been rebound at some point.
As for Harvard library's other two fleshy tomes, a book by French writer Houssaye and a copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses, there is no scientific word as of yet. Heather Cole, an assistant curator at the Harvard library, has said that the Houssaye book does appear to have a different binding material than is typical. In addition, it contains a note from a doctor, a friend of the author, who alludes to the human origins of the binding materials.
If you're interested in seeing a book bound in human skin, you're in "luck." Philadelphia's Mütter Museum, a festival of the senses for those of us who enjoy the macabre (cast of a woman who lived most of her life with a horn in her forehead, photographs of Civil War injuries, fetuses in jars, and a chest of drawers containing items swallowed by one doctor's patients) does hold a book bound in a woman's skin. If you can't make the trip, the museum's YouTube channel is not to be missed, especially the series titled "Guess What's On The Curator's Desk." Make sure to also check out the books linked below for more.
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