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318

paper

OLogy Series
anthropology
card
318

paper

OLogy Series
anthropology

About 2,000 years ago, people in China invented paper. Over time, the technique for making paper moved west along the Silk Road, a network of trade routes across Asia. As paper spread, people could make books more easily. These books opened up a new age of learning, especially in the Middle East. Islamic scholars took the lead in the study of science, literature, and mathematics.

How to Make Paper

Paper is made from plant material or cloth that is mashed into a pulp, or soft mass, then formed into a sheet.

To make paper from bamboo, the Chinese would begin by cutting and soaking pieces of the bamboo plant. Next, they would boil the plants until they were soft and pound them to a pulp. Then they would mix the pulp in water until a thin layer of tiny fibers forms on the surface. A special frame was used to lift the sheet out of the water. Finally, they would press the sheet to squeeze out the water and hung to dry.

Over time, craftsmen in China and the Middle East found ways to smooth and color paper, creating a variety of fine papers.

People have been writing for at least 3,000 years before paper was available. They wrote on:

dried palm leaves

layers of wax

both of these

Are you right?

Correct!

People around the world have written on strips of bamboo, silk, clay, and even parchment (specially prepared and dried animal skins). Written records were also kept on papyrus. Making papyrus from the papyrus plant was a technique that originated in Egypt.

As paper became more abundant, Chinese artists began printing words and pictures using carved wooden blocks. Why?

printing pages could be produced more quickly

printing pages were easier to read

printing pages were more beautiful to view

Are you right?

Correct!

Printing can produce pages more quickly than handwriting. Chinese artists smeared ink on wooden blocks, which were used to print thousands of pages very quickly. Printing led to more and more books. Books help spread stories, ideas, and knowledge.

How did the spread of paper change how people buy and sell goods?

many traders accepted only paper in exchange for other goods

paper bills joined coins as a form of currency

people could buy goods through catalogues

Are you right?

Correct!

Around the year 1000, the Chinese began printing paper money. Traders also bought and sold goods by keeping track of debts and credits using paper records. By using paper, traders didn't have to carry coins that could be stolen by thieves on the road.

In Central Asia, most paper was made from linen or cotton rags.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Most paper in the Middle East was made this way too. In China, paper makers used different kinds of plants, like mulberry tree bark. Most paper we use today comes from wood pulp.

In the Middle East, authors could not publish many books at a time until they learned how to print with wooden blocks.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

For centuries, authors in the Middle East kept writing books by hand. They could produce many books at once by reading aloud while a group of helpers wrote down the words.

Description: thin, flat material used for writing and printing
Material: pieces of plant or cloth
First Invented: China, more than 2000 years ago
Characteristics: light, flexible, inexpensive to make
Significance: Paper became a widespread resource for recording and spreading ideas.
Cool Fact: The first European paper was made in the 1100s by Islamic craftsmen living in Spain.

Image credits: © AMNH/Division of Anthropology.