Book at Havard is bound in human skin

Experts at Harvard have confirmed a 19th century book held in one of the prestigious university's libraries is bound in human skin.

A series of tests by scientists and conservators on Houghton Library’s copy of the French writer Arsene Houssaye's Des destinees de l'ame concluded with 99.9% certainty that the binding material "is of human origin".

According to the library, the novelist presented the volume, described as "a meditation on the soul and life after death", to one of his book-loving friends.

Dr Ludovic Bouland bound the book with skin taken from the back of an unclaimed body of a female mental patient who had died of a stroke, according to researchers.

Dr Bouland left a note in the volume explaining what he had done.

He wrote: "A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering."

After carrying out tests on the tome, Bill Lane, the director of the Harvard Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Resource Laboratory, said: "The analytical data, taken together with the provenance of Des destinées de l’ame, make it very unlikely that the source could be other than human."

Although binding a book in another person's skin may now seem distinctly gruesome, it was not an unusual practice in the past.

Called "anthropodermic bibliopegy", the binding of books in human skin has occurred at least since the 16th century, according to the library.

And there are many accounts in the 19th century where the bodies of executed criminals were donated to science, and the skins given to tanners and bookbinders.

Houghton's book is now the only known book at Harvard bound in human skin.

Similar testing done on books thought to be bound in human skin at the Harvard Law School Library and the Harvard Medical School's Countway Library revealed that both were actually bound in sheepskin.

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