Paper

By Anthony James, Staff Writer

The ancient years of the human race were quite grandiose for those wanting to have any sort of knowledge of their past. Records were painstakingly chiseled onto stone tablets, notches were inked onto any sort of garbage to keep track of possessions, and oral traditions painstakingly committed to memory by the chief historians. The art of communication through written word was still a glint in the eyes of society. Safe to say not very many people could recall what happened too far in the past.

 Paper

By Anthony James, Staff Writer

The ancient years of the human race were quite grandiose for those wanting to have any sort of knowledge of their past. Records were painstakingly chiseled onto stone tablets, notches were inked onto any sort of garbage to keep track of possessions, and oral traditions painstakingly committed to memory by the chief historians. The art of communication through written word was still a glint in the eyes of society. Safe to say not very many people could recall what happened too far in the past.

Since the Stone Age men and women were trying to come up with a less expensive technique to preserve the written language other than chiseling onto tablets. Most of us who have studied western civilization would recall papyrus: a plant based material that was mulched and woven together to keep written records for the ancient Egyptians. Even though the use of papyrus was a cheap, wrist-easing method of keeping records, many noted that it did not hold very well to aging or weather conditions. A replacement had to be sought.

105 AD. Across the globe the second imperial dynasty, the Han Dynasty, was in full reign in ancient China. It was in this time that a court official named Cai Lun noted that the traditional method of keeping military records and sending messages between armies was highly inefficient. Bamboo tablets were bulky and heavy while writing on silk proved expensive; it is said that Cai Lun looked to bees and wasps for inspiration into creating the early papermaking technique. By putting together materials such as hemp, bark, silk, and even fishing nets, the first paper was born.

Cai Lun's story is well known, but paper might have been used in China much earlier...a whole century early. In 2006, specimens of paper from the ancient Chinese army suggest that paper was being used long before 105 AD, which is popularly thought of as the birth of paper. Yes, paper could have been used as early as 8 BC; at a time when most of the western world was still chiseling on stone tablets.

Paper's first uses were not as common in the writing area as in wrapping purposes. Excavations dating back to 2nd century BC showed that paper was used to wrap mirrors, medicine, and other delicates. Later on, another secondary use was discovered: toilet paper. Though the thought disgusted some and even was frowned upon by Arab traders, you can thank the rows of Charmin and Cottonelle to the Ancient Chinese inventors. 

Paper eventually made its way to Europe and the Middle East via traders and craftsman who shared the creation techniques. Obviously, paper was not the best way to preserve writing, but it was very cheap and efficient to make which allowed literacy to expand to even commoners. The Chinese, Arabs, and later the Europeans would eventually improve on the process of papermaking, create paper mills and develop mass production industries by the 19th century. Information began to flow much easier by then with such cheaply made material. Paper would help in many ways to the advancement of civilization, though its impact could not have been justified if we were still writing all of our information by hand. A means to duplicate information fast and cheaply was also critical to our survival...

 

...stay tuned.

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