A Mankind’s Everlasting Evolution
by Abbas Hammoud
It is interesting to note that every invention has its own story, as it is a product of mankind’s everlasting evolution. Interestingly, paper has one of the most exquisite stories. Thanks to that wonderful creation, many descriptions of our world have been stored and shared. Writing on paper originated 5,000 years ago; at 3,000 BC, Egyptians cut strips of a marsh grass called Cyperous Papyrus and softened them in the muddy water of the Nile.
The strips were then layered in right angles to form a kind of mat. The mat was then pounded into a thin sheet and left in the sun to dry. After drying the sheets became ideal for writing. Due to their portability and light weight, the sheets were adopted by the Greeks and Romans for record keeping, spiritual texts and works of art.
Although the latter was widely adopted as a writing medium, paper nowadays come from another source. In China, excavations of tombs of the former Han Dynasty (207BC-9AD) have revealed silk cloth bearing the texts of Lao Tzu - the father of Taoism (born in 604BC). As a result in 105 AD, Han Emperor Ho-Ti's chief eunuch T'sai Lun experimented with a wide variety of materials and refined the process of macerating the fiber of plants until each filament was completely separate. The individual fibers were then mixed with water in a large vat and later caught using a screen. When dried, this thin layer of intertwined fiber became what today we call paper. T'sai Lun's thin, yet flexible and strong paper with its fine, smooth surface was known as T'sai Ko-Shi, meaning: "Distinguished T'sai's Paper" and he became revered as the patron saint of papermaking.
Even though discovered in 105 AD, not until the 3rd century that the secret art of papermaking was leaked out of China. It travelled to Vietnam then Tibet then Korea then reached Japan in the 6th century. Papermaking then journeyed to the west spreading through Asia, Nepal, India, Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo. Finally, it reached Europe after the Moors from North Africa invaded Spain and Portugal.Whether using recycled materials or fresh organic matter, the process of papermaking starts by shredding the material into small strips and soaking them overnight to loosen the fibres. Next, the fibres are boiled for 2-6 hours. When finished, the fibres are washed with fresh water to remove impurities. The fibres are then beaten in a blender or by hand to a creamy pulp. At this stage, dyes can be added to create coloured papers. The pulp is poured into a large tub and the fibres are suspended in the water. The artisan dips a framed screen into the water and with great skill, lifts it to the surface catching the fibres onto the screen. The screens can either be left in the sun to dry, or be transferred to boards, pressed, smoothed and then dried. Paper has been used for many purposes, not just literature, but for war plans, the creation of the dollar bill, and of course, to give the ability to people at home of producing their own writing in physical form for hundreds of years. With human development and the increase in demand of papers, papermaking has evolved into its different stages and will forever continue with the improvement of machinery, research, and design methods.
To know more about how paper was invented, you can read the post Paper-Making by Kanglin Xing.