Tests on a book belonging to a library at Harvard University have found the 19th century text is bound in HUMAN skin, thought to be taken from a female mental patient.
After running several tests on the Des destinées de l’ame (Destinies of the Soul), scientists took proteins from the binding, kept at Houghton College library since the 1930s, and identified the source as human.
Author Arsen Houssaye is reported to have gifted the book to his friend Dr Ludovic Bouland in the 1880s. The doctor then bound the book with skin from the body of an unknown female mental patient who had died of natural causes, the BBC reported.
A note in the book, written by Bouland, reads: "I had kept this piece of human skin taken from the back of a woman.
"A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering."
Bill Lane, the director of the Harvard Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Resource Laboratory, and Daniel Kirby of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies described the results to Harvard's law blog:
"The peptide mass fingerprinting from Des destinées de l’ame matched the human reference, and clearly eliminated other common parchment sources, such as sheep, cattle and goat. 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."
Houghton’s book is now the only known book at Harvard bound in human skin.