History of Tanning In ancient history, tanning was considered a noxious trade and relegated to the outskirts of town, amongst the poor. The ancients used leather for water skins, bags, harnesses, boats, armor, quivers, scabbards, boots, and sandals. Around BC, the Sumerians began using leather, affixed by copper studs, on chariot wheels. Tanners would take an animal skin and soak it in water. Then they would pound and scour the skin to remove flesh and fat. Next, either they soaked the skin in urine to loosen hair fibers or they let the skin putrefy for several months, after which they dipped the skin in a salt solution.