History of hide materials

Humanity has used animal hides since the Paleolithic, for clothing as well as mobile shelters such as tipis and wigwams, and household items. Since ancient times, hides have also been used as a writing medium, in the form of parchment.

Fur clothing was used by other hominids, at least the Neanderthals.

Rawhide is a simple hide product, that turns stiff. It was formerly used for binding pieces of wood together. Today it is mostly found in drum skins.

Tanning of hides to manufacture leather was invented during the Paleolithic.

Parchment for use in writing was introduced during the Bronze Age and later refined into vellum, before paper became commonplace.

Prehistoric and Ancient use

Chalcolithic leather shoe from Areni-1 cave
The world's oldest leather shoe.
A German parchmenter during the 16th century.

Ian Gilligan (Australian National University) has argued convincingly that hominids without fur would have needed leather clothing to survive outside the tropics in mid-latitude Eurasia, southern Africa, and the Levant during the cold glacial and stadial periods of the Ice Age, and there is archaeological evidence for the use of hide and leather in the Paleolithic.[1]

Simple, unmodified stone flakes could have been used to scrape hides for tanning, but scraper tools are more specialized for tasks such as woodworking and hideworking.[1]:19-20, 37 Both of these stone tool shapes were invented in the Oldowan,[2]:61, 66-67, but direct evidence for hideworking has not been found from earlier than about 400,000 years ago. Examination of microscopic use-wear on scrapers demonstrates they were used to prepare hides at that time at Hoxne in England.[3]

The earliest known bone awls date to between 84,000 and 72,000 years ago in South Africa, and their use-wear shows that they were probably used to pierce soft materials, such as tanned leather.[4] Bone awls were later made in the Aurignacian in Europe, west Asia, and Russia, and also in Tasmania during the Last Glacial Maximum.[1]:50-51, 44-45,[2]:157-158 The earliest eyed sewing needles date to between 43,000 and 28,500 years ago, probably at least 35,000 years ago, in southern Siberia, and were used across Paleolithic Eurasia and in North America.[1]:49

Paleolithic hunters are also known to have targeted fur-bearing animals, such as wolves and arctic foxes in Europe, mole-rats in Africa, and red-necked wallabies in Tasmania.[1]:45-48

As animal husbandry was introduced during the Neolithic, human communities got a steady source of hides. The oldest confirmed leather tanning tools were found in ancient Sumer and date to approximately 5,000 BCE.[5] The oldest surviving piece of leather footwear is the Areni-1 shoe that was made in Armenia around 3,500 BCE. Another, possibly older, piece of leather was found in Guitarrero Cave in northern Peru, dating to the Archaic period.[2]:340

The first written references to leather are documented from Ancient Egypt around 1,300 BCE.[6] Various substances used were tannin obtained from trees, as well as animal brains, or faeces. The odor from tanning separated the tanneries from populated areas.

Medieval use

During the Middle Ages, leather craft was developed, as turnshoes and welt shoes were invented. Refined kinds of leather such as suede and nubuck were also introduced.

Modern use

New kinds of tanning chemicals came to use during the Industrial Revolution. Chromium tanning was invented during the 1850s. Patent leather has been manufactured since 1819. Phenol formaldehyde resin came into use during World War II.

Fur farming was introduced in the 19th century, and is today the main source of fur clothing. Synthetic fur is an alternative to genuine fur, for cost and ethical reasons.

Several kinds of synthetic leather have been invented during the 20th century.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Gilligan, Ian (March 2010). "The Prehistoric Development of Clothing: Archaeological Implications of a Thermal Model". Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. 17 (1): 15–80. doi:10.1007/s10816-009-9076-x. JSTOR 25653129.
  2. ^ a b c Scarre, Chris, ed. (2005). The Human Past. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. ISBN 978-0-500-28531-2.
  3. ^ Keeley, L. H. (1980). Experimental determination of stone tool uses: A microwear analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 128-151. ISBN 0-226-42889-3.
  4. ^ Henshilwoood, C. S.; d'Errico, F.; Marean, C. W.; Milo, R. G.; Yates, R. (2001). "An early bone tool industry from the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa: Implications for the origins of modern human behaviour, symbolism and language". Journal of Human Evolution. 41 (6): 662. doi:10.1006/jhev.2001.0515.
  5. ^ ""السومرية"... أقدم حضارات العالم". عرب 48 (in Arabic). July 12, 2016. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  6. ^ "The History of Leather". Vonbaer.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-05-24.


Scarre, Chris, ed. (2005). The Human Past. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. ISBN 978-0-500-28531-2.

Further reading

History of clothing and textiles

The study of the history of clothing and textiles traces the development, use, and availability of clothing and textiles over human history. Clothing and textiles reflect the materials and technologies available in different civilizations at different times. The variety and distribution of clothing and textiles within a society reveal social customs and culture.

The wearing of clothing is exclusively a human characteristic and is a feature of most human societies, though it is not known exactly when various peoples began wearing clothes. Anthropologists believe that animal skins and vegetation were adapted into coverings as protection from cold, heat and rain, especially as humans migrated to new climates.

Textiles can be felt or spun fibers made into yarn and subsequently netted, looped, knit or woven to make fabrics, which appeared in the Middle East during the late stone age. From the ancient times to the present day, methods of textile production have continually evolved, and the choices of textiles available have influenced how people carried their possessions, clothed themselves, and decorated their surroundings.Sources available for the study of clothing and textiles include material remains discovered via archaeology; representation of textiles and their manufacture in art; and documents concerning the manufacture, acquisition, use, and trade of fabrics, tools, and finished garments. Scholarship of textile history, especially its earlier stages, is part of material culture studies.

History of materials science

Materials science has shaped the development of civilizations since the dawn of mankind. Better materials for tools and weapons has allowed mankind to spread and conquer, and advancements in material processing like steel and aluminum production continue to impact society today. Historians have regarded materials as such an important aspect of civilizations such that entire periods of time have defined by the predominant material used (Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc.). For most of recorded history, control of materials had been through alchemy or empirical means at best. The study and development of chemistry and physics assisted the study of materials, and eventually the interdisciplinary study of materials science emerged from the fusion of these studies. The history of materials science is the study of how different materials were used and developed through the history of Earth and how those materials affected the culture of the peoples of the Earth.


Vellum is prepared animal skin or "membrane", typically used as a material for writing on. Parchment is another term for this material, and if vellum is distinguished from this, it is by vellum being made from calfskin, as opposed to that from other animals, or otherwise being of higher quality. Vellum is prepared for writing or printing on, to produce single pages, scrolls, codices or books. The word is derived from the Latin word vitulinum meaning "made from calf", leading to Old French vélin, "calfskin".)

Modern scholars and custodians increasingly use only the highly specific if confusing term "membrane". Depending on factors such as the method of preparation it may be very hard to determine the animal species involved (let alone its age) without using a laboratory, and the term avoids the need to distinguish between vellum and parchment.Vellum is generally smooth and durable, although there are great variations depending on preparation and the quality of the skin. The manufacture involves the cleaning, bleaching, stretching on a frame (a "herse"), and scraping of the skin with a crescent-shaped knife (a "lunarium" or "lunellum"). To create tension, scraping is alternated with wetting and drying. A final finish may be achieved by abrading the surface with pumice, and treating with a preparation of lime or chalk to make it accept writing or printing ink.Modern "paper vellum" is made of synthetic plant material, and is called such for its usage and quality similarities. Paper vellum is used for a variety of purposes including tracing, technical drawings, plans and blueprints.

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