Human Horns: A Dilemma For Some, A Delight For Others

Nice rack… of antlers! So-called “Human Horns” are more than just the theme of a Futurama episode, they’re a recognized medical phenomenon that’s not as uncommon as one might think. After centuries of misunderstanding, fear and scorn, researchers may finally have an answer that explains this strange and unsettling skin condition.

(images via: The Infosphere, The Saurabh Gupta Blog and College of Physicians of Philadelphia)
The medical profession refers to these bizarre, even frightening growths as Cutaneous Horns (Cornu Cutaneum, in Latin) that may outwardly resemble the horns of goats, deer, cattle and other ungulates. The resemblance is only skin deep, however – with the emphasis on “skin”. Though hard and bony to the touch, human horns are actually keratotic, meaning they are made from the same material as hair and fingernails.

(image via: The Saurabh Gupta Blog)
According to the World Journal of Surgical Oncology, “Cutaneous horn may arise from a wide range of the epidermal lesions, which may be benign, pre-malignant or malignant.” It’s estimated that up to one third of the odd protuberances have a cancerous connection; explaining the remaining two-thirds of occurrences is more problematic.

(images via: The Saurabh Gupta Blog)
When human horns appear, it’s most commonly the head, neck and the backs of hands that are affected. This leads many medical professionals to postulate a connection between the growths and chronic exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. As most of those afflicted are of an advanced age – a survey conducted by the WJSO reported an average age of 57 – anecdotal evidence at least would seem to support the theory that long-term UV exposure combined with age-related skin degeneration may lay the ground for the growth of human horns.

(images via: Scrape TV, Devil In Exile and Eric Lease Morgan)
As cutaneous horns are by no means a strictly modern manifestation, it’s interesting to consider how societies of the past would have reacted to their appearance on members of the population… well, we can probably guess how they would have reacted: not positively. It’s also worthy of consideration how cutaneous horns relate to the myth of The Devil. Which came first, the horned portrayal of Satan or tales of humans with cutaneous horns?

(image via: Heaven Awaits)
Back in the 1880s and long before photoshop, hoaxers in Sayre, Bradford County, Pennsylvania were busily attaching deer horns to human skulls and burying them – to be conveniently “discovered” some time later. The reasons for the hoax are unknown and anyone connected with the events has long since passed on. The skulls themselves have also passed on: after being sent to the American Investigating Museum in Philadelphia, the bones vanished and were presumed to have been stolen.

(images via: Sideshow World, Seany and Ann Whatever)
Though exact details of prehistorical human horns are lost in the mists of time, by the middle ages several cases were documented including that of Mary Davis of Saughall. Cheshire, England. Davis, who died in 1688 at the age of 71, seems to have grown 4 cutaneous horns: single examples held by a local vicar, the British Museum and the King of France have all gone missing.

(images via: io9 and College of Physicians of Philadelphia)
Mary Davis’ sole remaining horn is preserved and can be viewed at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California, framed and mounted in the fashion of hunters’ trophy heads. According to an early visitor to the museum, “The horn was blackish in color, not very thick or hard, but well proportioned.” Lovely… and visitors can purchase miniature horn earrings in the museum’s gift shop.

(image via: Sideshow World)
Human horns have sprouted, as it were, anywhere humans have lived. In Japan they are known as “Kakuhi” (Horned Skin) and a unique record of such a horn (horns actually; one large and one small) was created by members of the Tokyo University Medical department. The shockingly large horn and a portion of the head of a Chinese man were first photographed, then directly molded in wax.

(images via: Metro UK and Weird Asia News)
One of the most well-known current cases of cutaneous horn is that of a 101-year-old woman from Lushan Country, Henan Province, China named Zhang Ruifang. According to the centaurian centenarian’s 60-year-old son, “The horn started as a patch of thick, rough skin on the left side of her forehead. We didn’t pay too much attention to it at first, but as time went on it just grew and grew. And now there is something growing on the right side of her forehead and it seems quite possible that it’s another horn.”

(images via: WebHatti and Buzzfeed)
Neither the horn nor the accompanying attention has fazed Zhang, who says that “At first it was a nuisance sleeping and so on, but now I get people visiting me all the time bringing me food and gifts and asking to take my picture.”

(images via: What Commoners Do In Their Lives and Uimpi)
Another Chinese granny – Granny Zhao, as she’s called locally – has grown a 15 cm (6 inch) horn from her forehead. The 95-year-old woman, who hails from the city of Zhanjiang, is remarkably complacent about the horn, saying “It causes me no discomfort, but blocks part of my view.” According to family members, the horn first appeared 3 years ago and was thought to be a mole. It continued to grow, however, and today looks rather like a gnarled pumpkin stem.

(images via: What Commoners Do In Their Lives)
Before you jump to the conclusion that human horns particularly plague the elderly in China, we’ll refer to this pair of aged men – only one of whom is Chinese. Hmm, must be something in the water there… in any case, 93-year-old Ma Zhong Nan (above left) says his horn began growing after he nicked his scalp while combing his hair one morning. Saleh Talib Saleh, aged 81, is from Yemen, says he used to dream of growing horns. See, dreams really can come true!

(images via: I Am Bored and WebHatti)
One of the most spectacular cases of human cutaneous horns involves the 69-year-old woman in the photos above. Though details on her case are sketchy, it is known that she tolerated the horn growing from the center of her forehead for approximately 20 years!

(image via: WebHatti)

Over a period of two decades the horn grew asymmetrically, eventually coiling around in the fashion of a ram’s horn. Once the 17 cm (6.8 inch) horn was removed, it only required light make-up to return the woman’s appearance to normality.

(image via: Wandering Eyre)
What stands out the most (well, not the MOST but bear with me) about human horns is that even though removing them has never been particularly complex, painful or dangerous, many of those afflicted blithely tolerate them for years. Take Madame Dimanche (above), a 19th century Parisian widow in her 70s who not only grew a human horn nearly nearly 23 cm (about 10 inches) long, but waited 6 years before requesting a doctor to remove it. Perhaps being “horny” brings with it some as yet unexplained benefit?