A Historical Artifact at Harvard: The Tale of the Human Skin Book

In the annals of history, there are artifacts that stand out for their uniqueness and the stories they tell. One such artifact resides at Harvard University – a book bound in human skin. This book, known as “Des destinées de l’ame” (Destinies of The Soul), has been a part of Harvard’s Houghton Library since the 1930s and offers a fascinating glimpse into a rare historical practice.

A Historical Artifact at Harvard: The Tale of the Human Skin Book

A Binding with a Story

The book’s binding tells a story of its own. A note left inside the book by its donor reveals that the book was intentionally bound in human skin. The note, translated from French, reads: “This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering: I had kept this piece of human skin taken from the back of a woman.” This practice of using human skin in bookbinding, while macabre, is a part of our historical record. For more on the history of bookbinding, explore our article on HistoryTimeMachine.com.

Anthropodermic Bibliopegy: A Historical Practice

The practice of binding books in human skin, known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, has roots dating back to at least the 15th century. The skin used for “Des destinées de l’ame” is believed to have been taken from the back of a female mental patient whose body was unclaimed after she died from a stroke. To delve deeper into unusual historical practices, peruse our collection of articles at HistoryTimeMachine.com.

Scientific Confirmation

Through rigorous testing, Harvard researchers confirmed the human origin of the book’s binding. They analyzed peptides within a sample of the book’s binding to identify proteins, which allowed them to rule out all sources but certain primates. Further analysis confirmed a human origin for the binding. For more on the history of scientific discovery and its role in understanding our past, visit our section on scientific breakthroughs at HistoryTimeMachine.com.

A Unique Historical Artifact

Today, “Des destinées de l’ame” stands as the only known book in all of Harvard’s libraries to be bound in human skin. Two other books were previously believed to be bound in human skin, but both have now been confirmed to actually be bound in sheepskin. For more fascinating insights into the world of rare books and unique historical artifacts, explore our other articles at HistoryTimeMachine.com.

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