This dried specimen from the Mütter Museum collection was removed from a 70-year-old woman. It was her second horn growth, and she had it for seven years before it was removed. It is 20 centimeters (about 8 inches) long and was donated to the Museum in the 1940s.
Cornu cutaneum growths, or cutaneuous horns, look similar to animal horns, but they have a different composition. They are compacted keratin protrusions of lesions that most often occur on areas of the body commonly exposed to the sun, like the face, hands, and forearms. About 60% of the reported cases of cutaneous horn lesions are benign. Women older than 50 who have had long-term sun exposure and many sunburns are more likely to have these growths than men.
“Madame Dimanche, also known as Widow Sunday, was a French woman living in Paris in the early 1800s. At the age of 76, a cutaneous horn began growing from the washerwoman’s forehead. Over the next six years, it grew to the length of 24.9 cm (9.8″”) before it was successfully removed by French surgeon Br. Joseph Souberbeille.”
The earliest well-documented case of a human cutaneous horn dates to 1588 and was that of Margaret Gryffith, an elderly Welsh woman. Another famous case is that of 17th-century Englishwoman Mary Davis, an aging widow who had horns on the back of her scalp. She was exhibited in London as a natural wonder. The Mütter’s own well-known wax model of Madame Dimanche, sculpted from life and shown to the right here, shows the face of an elderly woman with a large horn protruding from the top of her forehead and hanging down in front of her face. Her horn measured nearly 25 centimeters (10 inches) long.
Humans and horns share a twisted history. In mythology and folklore, horned humans represent devils, demons, and other nefarious creatures. It is easy to imagine that the strange sight of a horn on a human could inspire such stories.