|Papyrus plant (Public Domain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus)|
While it is true that around 2400 B.C., Egyptians
- Sliced the flower stems of papyrus into flat slices,
- Soaked them,
- Laid the stems criss-crossed on top of each other, and
- Pressed them to dry, creating mats for writing and drawing.
Paper as we know it, however, came about in a different way.
Egyptians were not the only ancient culture to invent things on which they could record the details of their history. Here is a timeline of some other inventions:
- Around 6000 years ago, the Sumerians, in what is now Iraq, recorded pictographs on clay tablets taken from the bed of the Euphrates River.
|Sumerian clay tablet (Public Domain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_table)|
- Around 2500 years ago (about the same time Egyptians were making papyrus mats), in Southeast Asia, people were etching their writing on bai-lan palm leaves and then applying a mix of soot and resin to make the etching more visible. There are still a few Buddhist monks in Chiang Mai, Thailand, who do this kind of writing.
|Palm leaf manuscript (Public Domain: picture https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm-leaf_manuscript)|
- More than 400 years ago, people in Russia, North America, and the Himalayas wrote on bark with a stylus. The stylus leaves a kind of bruised line on the bark that is quite easy to see. Today traditional craftsmen in Ukraine still still etch birch bark to create pictures. This one was a gift to us from a Ukrainian friend.
|Ukrainian etched birch bark picture|
However, paper as we know it today is made of pulp.
Cloth or plant fibers are separated and stirred until they become a slurry of wet soggy soup. The idea of making paper this was invented in China about 2000 years ago. The person who is usually given credit for inventing this method of making paper was a man named Ts’ai Lun, a member of the imperial court.
|Ts'ai Lun (Public Domain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cai_Lun)|
Ts’ai Lun combined fibers from mulberry, hemp, silk, bamboo, and grasses; he pounded and cooked them to mush, and then spread the mush on a screen to dry. When the flat sheet of mush had dried, Ts’ai Lun had a tough, flexible paper that was perfect for imperial records!
When we were in Thailand recently, we picked up a few sheets of paper made of mulberry fibers. As you can see, the paper maker mixed in bits of some dried plants for decoration. I couldn’t help but think that my new paper had a history 2000 years old!
|Thai mulberry fiber paper|
You can imitate Ts’ai Lun's invention and make your own paper.You’ll need
- a blender,
- a piece of window screen,
- a cheap picture frame, and
- scraps of paper.
- Attach a piece of window screen to a picture frame with duct tape or staples.
- To make the paper pulp mush, put paper scraps in the blender and add water until the blender is about 2/3 full.
- If you want paper hard enough to write on, add some liquid starch.
- You can add color with food dye or plant juice.
- You can add interesting texture with small leaves, string or yarn, or flower petals.
- Set your framed screen in something to catch the water (a sink or a large pan with edges, for example). Pour the paper mush onto the screen, and shake the screen to get an even layer of mush.
- Press the mush flat with a flat object like a cookie sheet.
- Prop the screen up on one side so air can circulate around it, and let the mush dry, until you have paper.