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'Human skin' book at Harvard found to be bound in sheepskin

Published on Apr 5, 2014 6:26 AM

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (REUTERS) - A 17th century book owned by Harvard Law School, thought to have been bound in human skin because of an inscription that referred to a man "flayed alive," has been shown through scientific testing to have been bound in sheepskin.

The binding material of the Spanish law book published in 1605-1606 was determined after an analysis of nine samples of its front and back covers, binding and glue, Ms Karen Beck, a rare books curator at Harvard Law School Library, said on Friday.

The Harvard conservation scientist who conducted the testing used a technique for identifying proteins called peptide mass fingerprinting to differentiate the samples from other parchment sources such as cattle, deer, goat and human skin, Ms Beck wrote in a post on the Harvard Law School Library blog. The glue was found to consist of cattle and pig collagen.

Curators, dermatologists and others had studied the book for years because of a suggestive inscription on its last page that reads: "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." The book arrived at Harvard Law School in 1946, Beck said.

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