The Great Invention

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 March, 2010, 12:00am

First papyrus

Before the invention of paper, people wrote, drew and painted on walls, wood, clay tablets and animal skins. The ancient Egyptians came up with the idea of making scrolls from the pressed fibre of the papyrus plant some 5,000 years ago. The word 'paper' comes from the Greek word for 'papyrus'.

But paper as we know it today was invented in China. It is called one of the 'Four Great Inventions of Ancient China'. The others were the compass, gunpowder and printing. It is said the invention was made by Cai Lun, an official in the Han dynasty (206-220 AD). But older examples of paper have been found in China.

Mulberry bark and hemp

Early Chinese wrote on bones. They also wrote on strips of bamboo that were sewn together and made into books. The problem was that a big book was too heavy to carry. Silk was much lighter, but it was too expensive. Paper was first used for writing sometime between 200 BC and 100 BC.

The first paper was made by mashing mulberry bark and hemp with water. Then the mash was spread out and left to dry in the sun. By the 3rd century, the new invention was being used all over China. By the 6th century, China was the first country in the world to use toilet paper.

Around the world

Paper began its journey from China to the rest of the world via the Silk Road. The famous Silk Road city of Samarkand was the first place outside China to have a paper mill in 751 AD. Samarkand is northwest of Kashgar in Xinjiang in what is today Uzbekistan. The story goes that Chinese soldiers were captured in a battle in the city. Some of them knew how to make paper. They offered their secret in return for their freedom.

Paper quickly spread through the Arab world and to Spain, which the Arabs - or Moors - controlled from around the 8th to 12th centuries. During this time, the rest of Christian Europe used parchment to write on. Parchment is made from animal skin. When the Christians captured Spain, they gained control of a paper mill. Parchment became history.

now do this

1 The ancient Egyptians wrote on ...

a. parchment

b. bamboo

c. papyrus

2 Paper in China was probably invented during the ...

a. Tang dynasty

b. Han dynasty

c. Yuan dynasty

3 The word 'paper' comes from the .... word for 'papyrus'

a. Greek

b. Arab

c. Spanish


March 17