Harvard University Confirms One of Its Libraries Houses Book Bound in Human Skin

The book is titled “Des destinées de l’ame” and was written by Arsène Houssaye

Officials from the Harvard University announced on Wednesday that they had been confirmed with 99.9 percent confidence that a 19th-century book housed in one of the university's various libraries was bound in human skin.

Conservators and researchers teamed up to carry out a series of tests on the copy of Arsène Houssaye’s “Des destinées de l’ame” (”Destinies of The Soul”), which was appropriately described as a “mediation on the soul life and after death,” and came to the shocking conclusion that the volume was indeed wrapped in the remnants of an actual human being.

The book, which was published sometime in the 1880s and has been sitting in Harvard's Houghton Library since the 1930s, had a note inside it from the donor, Dr. Ludovic Bouland, who explained that he had the book bound in human skin.

It is believed that the book's owner had it sheathed in the skin of a female mental patient who had died of “apoplexy,” the library said in May last year.

Bouland's handwritten note was intended to explain what he had done, and goes as follows:

“This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin. 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.”

According to Boston Magazine, Harvard's experts used various scientific methods to test the book’s authenticity, and a technique known as peptide mass fingerprinting helped them determine that the biding of the tome was “without a doubt” of human origin, and not a parchment made from sheep, cattle, or goat. The process involved taking microscopic samples of tissue from various parts of the binding and analyzing them closely to identify the source of the material through its proteins.

Bill Lane, director of the Harvard Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Resource Laboratory, confirmed the findings saying, “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.”

While the binding of books in human skin – known as anthropodermic bibliopegy – may seem creepy nowadays, the practice was in fact not so uncommon in the past and dates back to at least the 16th century. Apparently, the confessions of criminals were sometimes wrapped in the skin of the convicted.

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