LEATHERMAKING is an ancient craft. The oldest leather artefact found so far is a 5,500-year-old shoe from a cave in Armenia, but paintings in Egyptian tombs show that, 7,000 years ago, leather was being turned into all manner of things, from sandals to buckets to military equipment. It is a fair bet that the use of animal skins for shelter and clothing goes back hundreds of thousands of years at least.
Leathermaking is also, though, a nasty business. In 18th-century London the soaking of putrefying hides in urine and lime, to loosen any remaining flesh and hair, and the subsequent pounding of dog faeces into those skins to soften and preserve them, caused such a stench that the business was outlawed from the City proper and forced downwind and across the river into Bermondsey. In countries such as India and Japan, the trade tainted people as well as places and was (and often still remains) the preserve of social outcasts such as Dalits and Burakumin.
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