The History Of Leather
The history of leather is as old as the history of hunting itself. Since the age of Neanderthals, human tribes have hunted animals like cows, wooly mammoths, alligators, sheep, horses, wild cats and even saber tooth tigers. Food was scarce in the early pre-historic era, and not one part of the animal was wasted, including the hide. Hides were used to create clothing and bedding that would envelop individuals from the cold. Larger hides were even used as tents for early nomadic hominids traveling long distances across frigid plains. Over time, hide-working developed into a serious craft, as elders passed on the intricacies of tanning hides into leather to their children. As civilization expanded and human beings developed mastery over the world and its creatures the activity became a profession, and leather began to see use in a variety of products.
The Difference Between Hide and Leather
All hide is leather, but not all leather is hide.
Merriam-Webster defines hide as “the skin of an animal whether raw or dressed — used especially of large heavy skins”. Hide and leather generally refer to the same thing, in this case, an animal skin. However, hide is generally referred to as an unprocessed animal skin. Left out in the open air this skin would begin to rot and disintegrate. Leather is a type of hide that has been conditioned, treated or tanned, and will not rot or disintegrate as it has been removed from most organic matter like fat and muscle.
How Rawhide is Tanned into Leather
The tanning process is a method developed thousands of years ago. In fact, the word tan is actually a disambiguation of the word “tannin,” the old German word for oak or fir trees, from which the compound is derived. Tanning can be done with either vegetable or mineral methods; early humans no doubt rubbed rawhide with a variety of substances ranging from plants to roots to salt and minerals, in order to keep the integrity of the leather.
The Tanning Process Changes Leather's Chemical Composition
Tanning a piece of rawhide, or raw animal skin, permanently changes the protein structure of that skin. It becomes supple yet durable - the two most prized qualities of well-fabricated leather.
You Wouldn't Have Wanted to Work in a Tannery 4000 Years Ago
For one, the smell was overpowering. The compounds used to tan hides into leather comprised of bad smelling odors like dirt, alkaline lime, or urine. For this reason, tanneries were relegated to the outskirts of town, among the most poor areas of the village. Unprocessed skins arrived to tanneries with flesh, dirt, and gore still attached to them. Tanners would then soak these hides and leave them out for a period of 6 weeks in order for the water to moisten them. Afterward, the hair needed to be removed, either with hard scraping or with organic waste collected and smeared on the outside of the hide. This waste contained enzymes that loosened the rough, unwanted hair from the hide.
Wastewater needed to be constantly removed from the work site; most of it was toxic and known to cause biological defects upon entry into the human body - so early tanners had to be very careful when handling their unfinished wares. As if all that wasn’t enough, the process required heavy manual labor and a constant attention to the hides, as each one moved through the tanning process from start to finish.
Paleolithic Men and Women Used Leather
Leather has been treated, cured, and tanned since early Paleolithic times. We see evidence of Paleolithic humans with leather of various animals, including large cats, wooly mammoths, and sheep - depending on the part of the world where they came from. We also see evidence of all sorts of leather types: in colder climates, for example, the outside hair was usually left on the hide while in hotter climates closer to the equator the hide was cleaned outright.
Civilizations That Used Leather
Early civilizations that used leather included the early Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Greeks and the Romans. Since then, the tools required to work leather remain almost unchanged. The only thing that has gotten better as technology came about was the scale, efficiency, and comfort of the process; however, we still use the same system to tan hides into leather (Source).
Leather Care Products
Leather care products and leather shoe care follow the old rule of leather care: Prevention is better than cure. Preventing damage from happening to leather shoes and accessories is much easier than repairing them after the fact. Take steps to weather-proof your leather accessories, as well as moisturizing, cleaning, and renewing them with the products on our site. Leather Care Supply believes this material can last decades when cared for properly. It has stood the test of time as one of the most versatile, pliant, reliable - and dare we say good-looking - materials of all time. Who knows, you may make a little history yourself as you strut around the city in your newly minted leather accessory!
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- Alex Pop