After conducting a series of tests on the binding, Harvard scientists have confirmed that a volume in one of its libraries is ‘without a doubt’ bound in human skin and also confirmed the origin of the material.
It is now ‘99.9 per cent’ sure that the material covering the book, Arsène Houssaye’s Des destinées de l’ame, is of human origin as confirmed by the scientists and conservators after using several methods to test the binding.
With a view to eliminate the chances that the 19th century book was made out of other binding materials such as sheep or goat skin, the team used a process known as peptide mass fingerprinting to examine microscopic samples of the covering.
Further, to determine the order of amino acids, the building blocks of each peptide which are different in each species, the binding was analysed minutely.
“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,” explained Bill Lane, the director of the Harvard Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Resources Laboratory.
“However, although the PMF was consistent with human, other closely related primates, such as the great apes and gibbons, could not be eliminated because of the lack of necessary references.”
The note, from Dr. Ludovic Bouland, stated “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.”
The occurrence of Anthropodermic bibliopegy, the formal name for the practice of binding books with human skin, was prevalent since at least the 16th century.