The history of leather has been rich and colorful. It is one of the oldest materials in the history of humanity, used for clothing and tools. Our ancient ancestors used leather made from animal hides to protect their bodies. No doubt, it has played a pivotal role in developing civilization and is a great example of innovation and resourcefulness.

However, for centuries, leather has been an integral part of fashion and design and one of the earliest and valuable discoveries in the world. Men in the wild hunted wild animals for food, then made clothing, footwear, and crude tents from their hides. Some of the early leather-making process, and a craft with it, is still similar today. However, the history of leather has closely tied people all around the world. But what exactly is it? Let’s delve a little deeper into this noble material.

What Is Leather:

Prior to recorded history, people used to wrap their bodies in dried animal pelts. But skin stiffing and rotting were a problem. Therefore, they discovered the methods of softening and preserving the skin. That is when leather processing began, and leather was born. Initially, the hides or skins were probably dried in the air and sunlight. Then they had been soaked in water and dried over a fire. However, later on, soaking twigs, barks and leaving the skin in the water process developed, which helped hides in preserving them. As archeologists have found, primitive man used the skins of hunted animals as a source of food and apparel. Primarily, leather comes from the hide or skin of any mammal, bird, fish, or reptile. Then the animal hides go in the tanning process in which tanning agents react with the collagen in the skin, making them waterproof, stable, and unable to decay.

History Of Leather – Back To Its Origin:

Leather was one of the oldest human artifacts. However, leather processing dates back to the dawn of time. In the prehistoric era, man sought protection from the weather, but soon they realized that the animals they ate could not only be used for food but also be served as clothing and huts. According to researchers, the earliest evidence of leather work, including hide scarping, dates back about 400,000 years ago. At that time, Neanderthals covered their bodies with hair and didn’t need clothes. However, the hunters began taking the skins from the animals they had just killed so they could use them as sunshades. They put the hides on branches and took them during hunting seasons. These skins only lasted a short time because of rain and sunshine alternating.

Suddenly, an unprecedented deluge occurred around 8000BC, and the season became more unusual than it had been during the Upper Paleolithic (old stone age). Rain and sunshine then became more frequent, and the cold became more important, which incited them to cover themselves to sleep. Consequently, they began losing their abundant hair after the genetic modification. So, their skin began to require protection as well. They began to hunt more frequently and tried to prolong the life of their skins.

The book of Hittites stated that, around 2200 BC, a shepherd from Sinai slaughtered his goat, took off the skin, and defatted it using clay and salt. Unfortunately, a gust of wind swept away the skin. It fell into the rock hollow, filled with water that had partially dissolved alum salts. The alum in water favored the action of salt presence on the skin, which saves skin from decomposing. A month later, when the shepherd was passed by the same rock, he found his goat’s skin. Unlike usual, the skin turned white but didn’t rot. After seeing it, he was amazed. He picked it up, dried it again, and put it on.

After seeing the skin’s success, he experimented with the process again under the same circumstances; and once again, the skin didn’t decompose. He perceived that the water in this place had peculiar properties and was loaded with salt, which he named “Rock Salt”. That’s how he became the first tanner in history. It then became the specialty of Hittites, the merchants, who then sold it by caravans between different regions. Over almost 1000 years, the Hittites were the only ones capable of tanning leather. It was a feature that greatly contributed to their prosperity. Many historians believe that leather work came into existence by chance. Yet, it’s unclear exactly how long ago vegetable tanning was invented, but it’s presumed that it was discovered by chance.

The Origin of Leather in Europe:

Sometimes industries are driven by historical reasons. The first place to understand the heart of the European leather industry is Italy, the world’s largest leather producer and still producing the finest leather in the world.

Leather production in Italy dates back to the 13th century, and there is evidence of a tannery in Pompeii ruins from 79 AD as well. Santa Croce in Florence was the first known center for Italian leather. Today, it still boasts many tanneries and is the perfect place to purchase fine leather goods. Moreover, Italian leather uses the strongest part of the hide known as full-grain. In addition to lasting the longest, full-grain leather is not only the most durable but also the most aesthetically pleasing material. There is another modern manufacturing resurgence in Portugal, another historic tanning center. In Portugal, tanning began in Guimaraes, Porto, and Alcanena, which are still the leather centers today. The tanning industry in Portugal dates as far back as the early 17th century. However, it flourished after the Industrial Revolution, which permitted organizations to become bigger and more economically scalable.

End Notes:

A focus on craftsmanship and tradition drives today’s leather clothing and accessory market to draw inspiration from historical eras. Today, fashion designers draw inspiration from history to design the leather goods of tomorrow, whether it’s rugged leather boots reminiscent of Western cowboys or vintage aviators that epitomize the decades of WWII.

Historical styles of leather fashion will always be relevant due to its ancient heritage. Meanwhile, designers are also constantly on the lookout for new and innovative ways to utilize this iconic textile. Despite it being difficult to predict future trends or fashions, leather will always have a significant presence in modern culture, regardless of its style or practicality.

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Leather History