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The Early History of Paper

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The early history of paper is so entertainingly displayed at the American Museum Of Papermaking and it's website. The origins and background to the development of paper is clearly and excitingly laid out in this engaging virtual museum. The galleries show visitors how, before the invention of paper, many different materials were used by ancient peoples as media to record written information. Stone, metal, wood, papyrus, clay, parchment, vellum, cloth, tree leaves, bark, and rice-pith "paper" are cited as examples of found objects people used to scribble on!.

As  visitors wait in the papermaking museum's virtual lobby, they can choose which early paper collections they can visit. The choice is vast. A good place to start learning about the early history of paper is the Sumerian gallery. Here, visitors can find out how the Sumerians, from Mesopotamia and Chaldaea, used cuneiform writing as pictographs around 4000 B.C. Clay was a handy ' found' material locally so it was the obvious thing for their writing surfaces. The pictograms gradually changed over a period of time (about 3000BC) into wedge-shaped characters which they wrote with the edge of a writing implement which we would now call a stylus or pen.

The display then goes on to describe how some peoples modified tree bark for record-keeping use. For example, In the Himalayan region and in the Americas people used sheets and rolls of bark. Also, even up to the 19C some Pacific societies used cloth made from bark. This was produced by wetting the bark then beating it with a serrated beater. Pieces were joined together with glue made from vegetable gums into sizeable sheets. You can even see an example of this on the page.

Tthe story of the Batak people was particularly fascinating because their little books were a neat idea! They wrote information on genealogy, religion, divination, and magic on bark strips as long as thirty feet, which they folded into little fan folds before placing between the covers which they made from wood. 

It was also fascinating to learn about how the papyrus plant came to be used by the early Egyptians.  Having previously inscribed on stone,  they found a need for a better, perhaps lighter,  medium  to transcribe on. The Egyptians found discovered a great medium in the papyrus sedge plant. This  reed has a triangle shape and is light, portable strong, hardwearing and thin. For many thousands of years, it was ideal for writing. The earliest  documented examples of papyrus come from Egypt's first dynasty. 

The American Museum Of Papermaking has many more galleries and exhibits too. Other facilities available at the site on the early history of paper include:

!. Virtual Tour

2. Audio narrative (need MP3 for this)
3. Workshops (You can book in for say, Japanese papermaking)
4. Exhibits (such as a lovely Tapa cloth)
5. Education (Ideas for teachers, even lesson plans! Or even for parents)
6. And of course "real" visits!"
7. Links to other sites about the making of paper
8. Travelling Exhibits

The papermaking content is dynamic, interesting and above all clear and simple to use, even for kids.

Improvement might include more use of narrative audio,more video now that we are in a new multi-media world, and perhaps more importantly of all, more interactivity and games for the kids.

Go take a virtual Museum Visit at

or The American Museum of Papermaking (Robert C. Williams Paper Museum Georgia Tech.

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