Besides steel, there is likely no more influential material in humankind’s existence than paper. If you try to imagine a world without paper, it’s difficult. Of course you may immediately think of office production grinding to a halt, however think more existentially – no paper towels to clean up messes, no lottery tickets at the convenience store, no birthday cards for your kids, no sticky notes reminding you to take out the trash. So much of our daily lives revolves around the use of paper that when you think about how its existence and versatility has impacted every day life – it’s nearly impossible to conceive of a world without it.
The word paper comes from the ancient Egyptian writing material called papyrus, which was woven from papyrus plants. Papyrus was produced as early as 3000 BCE in Egypt, and in ancient Greece and Rome.Further north, parchment or vellum, made of processed sheepskin or calfskin, replaced papyrus, as the papyrus plant requires subtropical conditions to grow. In China, documents were ordinarily written on bamboo, making them heavy and awkward to transport. Silk was sometimes used, but was normally too expensive to consider. Indeed, most of the above materials were rare and costly.
Invention of Modern Paper
The Chinese court official Ts’ai Lun is credited with describing the modern method of papermaking in 105 AD with other sources trace the invention of this type of papermaking to China in 150 BCE. The technology then transferred to Korea in 600 and then imported to Japan around 610 by a Buddhist priest, Dam Jing from Goguryeo, where fibres (called bast) from the mulberry tree were used.
After further commercial trading, the invention spread to the Middle East, where it was adopted in India and subsequently in Italy in about the 13th century. In these instances, they used hemp and linen rags as a source of fiber.
Some historians speculate that paper was the key element in global cultural advancement. According to this theory, Chinese culture was less developed than the West in ancient times because bamboo, while abundant, was a clumsier writing material than papyrus. Chinese culture advanced during the Han Dynasty and preceding centuries due to the invention of paper; and Europe advanced during the Renaissance due to the introduction of paper and the printing press.