Leather, there isn’t a whole lot to it, is there?

Ekoi Mask

Ekoi Mask

Sure, it’s a bit of a luxury and tends to be on the more expensive side, but it has been with us for centuries, and it just seems to be a part of our lives as humans. 

Our predecessors, i.e., prehistoric humans, used animal hides for clothes and blankets, for tents and shelter, for tools and other instruments, etc.  Ancient civilizations used leather to make armor, shields, and other military equipment for soldiers.

­­However, did you know that human leather exists?

That’s right, leather fashioned from the tanning of human skin. 

No, I don’t mean the Jersey Shore “gym, tan, laundry” sort of tanning. I mean tanning, the process of creating leather by use of tannins, the chemicals found in plants that permanently alter and strengthen the protein structures of skins and hides.

In fact, the Ekoi people in Nigeria and Cameroon use masks made from human skin during funeral ceremonies.

Ekoi Human Skin Mask in Ripley's San Antonio

Ekoi Human Skin Mask in Ripley’s San Antonio

This might sound like a horror movie…

I assure you that I’m not selling tickets to a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. 

If any animal skin can be used to create leather, then it stands to reason that human ­skin can be used as well.In fact, the Ekoi people in Nigeria and Cameroon use masks made from human skin during funeral ceremonies.  Any animal skin can be used to create leather.

The tsantsa, or shrunken heads, of the Shuar people in Ecuador and Peru are boiled in tannins during the process of shrinking, ultimately making a shrunken head leather. 

According to Thomas Carlyle, historian and author of The French Revolution: A History, it was rumored that at the château de Meudon the skin from people who had been executed by guillotine was tanned and used to make leather clothes. 

Human skin has also been used to bind and cover books. 

William Burke, a murderer who sold the bodies of his victims to a doctor to be dissected, was executed and was himself publicly dissected in 1828. 
Today, a company in the UK sells human leather.

Today, his skeleton is displayed in the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomy Museum, and a pocketbook that is bound and covered by his skin is on display at Surgeons’ Hall Museums. 

Even today, a company in the UK claims to legally make and sell leather products crafted from human skin that they legally acquired from donors who bequeath their skin to the company after the donor dies.

Whatever the case may be, I might start considering vinyl a bit more seriously, at least for a little while.

William Burke's death mask and pocket book, Surgeons' Hall Museum, Edinburgh

William Burke’s death mask and pocket book, Surgeons’ Hall Museum, Edinburgh



Museum of Man | Moore & Giles | Leather Resources | Dictionary.com | Merriam Webster | Book: Montgaillard | Book: Montgaillard | MVM.edu | RCSED | Human Leather


The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Ripley’s has teamed up with science centers around the country to bring you The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, a 6,000 sq. ft. highly interactive traveling exhibit.

Each week the staff scientists at the Arizona Science Center are going to be blogging the scientific side of Ripley’s!

Discover more unbelievable facts at “The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!®” at Arizona Science Center through May 4, 2014!

AZ Science Ctr - Science of Ripley's