History of paper

In ancient times people communicated with the help of sounds, but with growth of human conscience appeared necessity to write information that before was passed orally. Now it’s hard to imagine that paper was not the first material on which humankind made notes. Do you remember cave drawing? Or tablets made of clay and ivory? Palm leaves, smooth surface of bark, puddled sand, bamboo plates all kind of materials on which you can scratch something. People also tried wooden tablets with a layer of wax it was removable, so tablet was used multiple times. Maybe Russian proverb “start from clear sheet” came from those times... In Old Russia, besides wax tablets, leather and birch bark was used for writing.


Predecessors of paper

The history considers papyrus that appeared in the Ancient Egypt in III century B.C. the “ancestor” of paper. Its name came from bog plant (sedge) Cyperus papyrus that it was made of.  It’s interesting that in many European languages word “paper” comes from the word “papyrus”. Paper – in English, papier – in French and even “papir” – in Ukrainian.

Papyrus was made of plant caulis cut into thin strips. Then these strips were beaten with stone or by wooden hammer to make them wider and softer and placed in rows on even and dry surface so that one strip edge covers a bit the neighbor one. While drying up strips glued with each other and formed a sheet of material ready to write on it.

Papyrus sheet thickness was similar to the modern paper sheet thickness and it was made smooth with the help of polishing with stone or hard wood. Such material didn’t last long, as it easily absorbed moisture and broke. Still up to V century A.D. it remained the main material for writing and disappeared completely only in X century.

Approximately at the same time as papyrus, in II century B.C., in Asia Minor, in Pergama city (now Turkey, Bergama) appeared parchment paper. It happened, because they needed a lot of papyrus for making library and Ptolemy V who ruled Egypt those times forbade to export papyrus. Parchment paper was made of calfish, wether, caprine and neat's leather that was treated at both sides. This material was more practical than papyrus, as it was firm, elastic and double-sided. It was easier to store it and sheets could be cut into uniform format. But it has a disadvantage, it was expensive as the process of its creation was hard and long and raw material (jacket) was expensive and limited.


Her Majesty Paper

The beginning of paper history started in year 105 A.D. and its motherland was China. At that time documents were written in China on bamboo and animals’ bones. They were heavy and inconvenient to carry so they needed to invent something lighter. Dignitary Cai Lun is considered to be the creator of paper as he invented technological principle of its production – formation of sheet material from separate fibers through highly pre-diluted fibrous pulp dewatering on the net.

There is a legend that this idea was pointed to him by paper wasps that made nests from paper they produced themselves, chewing wood fibers and adding gluey saliva into them.  According to notes in chronicles Cai Lun used wood ash, hemp, fibers of mulberry and old cloths to make paper.  He thoroughly grinded all elements and mixed with water. He also created a special tool – wooden frame with bamboo net inside, on which he put the mixture and left under the sun to dry. Then he smoothed dry material with stones. As a result he got thin, firm sheets on which it was possible to write.  

With the time process was sent into mass production. Paper was made on water mills and before drying under the sun it was put under powerful press. To make ink stay on the surface, producers added glue into pots with paper material. Ancient paper could contain one piece wood fibers and even pieces of cloth, however with time technology of paper production was improved. China had kept in secret how they made paper for many centuries. But step by step Cai Lun’s technology spread all over the world. Paper quickly replaced parchment in Islamic world and papyrus in Egypt, and in XI–XII paper craft appeared in Europe.

Today we can’t imagine our life without paper. It’s everywhere around – books, newspapers, magazines, teaching books, advertisement pages, packaging, shopping bags, cups and plates... You can’t name everything. It’s impossible to imagine how the world would have looked like without paper.

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