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Hey, One of the Harvard Human Skin-Bound Books Isn’t Human Skin After All!

So... wait, but what about the other two?

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So you know how Harvard’s had some anthropodemic-bound books in their libraries for the past couple of years? Brand new information from the university was published yesterday suggesting that one of those three books is actually bound in sheepskin. Oh, good! That’s much less viscerally horrific. You know, unless you’re a sheep, but then what are you doing in a library anyway?

The book, which can be found in the HLS library, was thought to be bound with human skin, because the inscription in the back—well—sort of said so. It 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.”

Everybody pretty much took the author at his word that he put his book together with the skin of his dead friend, but I guess no one ever thought to question whether or not Jonas Wright was a person, huh?

According to the Harvard Law School library blog post, Et Seq. conservation scientist Daniel Kirby has been studying the book’s parchment “at the request of HLS Library curators” (probably because dumb nerds like us won’t shut up with the Necrocomicon jokes), and analyzing samples against other parchment sources such cattle, deer, and goat, as well as human skin.

Using peptide mass fingerprinting, Kirby established that the book’s outer binding is sheepskin, not human. “Perhaps before it arrived at HLS in 1946, the book was bound in a different binding at some point in its history,” Karen Beck, writer for Et Seq, suggests in her coverage. “Or perhaps the inscription was simply the product of someone’s macabre imagination.”

Currently, the book is being digitized—binding and all—and will be available online via Harvard’s library portal sometimes in late 2014. Just be careful with the other two suspected human-skin bound books in your library, guys, like the one in the Houghton Library. Remember that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Willow Rosenberg accidentally digitized a demon book and then it became her Internet boyfriend? I’m not saying that could happen, but…

(via Harvard, image via the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

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