The concept of paper originated from ancient Egypt in the form of papyrus, from which the word ‘paper’ is derived. Our modern day concept of paper however was invented by Ts’ai-Lun, of China around 105 A.D.
Papyrus paper came as a result of the development of written language, an astounding breakthrough as prior efforts included carving into large clay tablets, which were near impossible to transport. In harvesting papyrus, Egyptians would slice the plant into thin strips and layer the strips into a mat, which was pounded thin and then baked in the sun. In classical times, papyrus paper was used extensively for religious texts, clerical records, as well as paintings and sketches within Egyptian, Roman and Greek cultures.
At the same time, in other parts of the world, mostly along the equatorial belt, substances were being used for similar purposes as papyrus paper. These substances along with papyrus were known to as ‘tapa’ that is a universal term to refer to all ancestral forms of modern day paper.
Papers predecessors’ tapa and papyrus made use of pressed animal skin and bark as well as plant pitch, whereas true (modern) paper is considered to be made from the pulp of individual cellulose fibers, mainly from cotton, wood, flax, rags (from textiles), wastepaper, and later, other synthetic fibers. At the most basic level, these are made using a partition (or screen), and carefully pressed and dried, in a similar fashion to our paper making recipe.
Ts’ai-Lun, a Chinese imperial court official, is recognized as the founder of modern paper. Around 105 AD, Ts-ai-Lun produced the first official paper samples that he presented to the emperor, Han Ho Ti. It is known that he used the inner bark from the Mulberry tree together with hemp rags. Later, he experimented with a range of other fibers (including bamboo and sesame fiber) to improve the quality and robustness of his paper.
Up until the 19th century, handmade paper was the dominant form; from then on, with a growth in paper machinery, paper became industrialised.
Paper has earned its place in history – a long history that dates back to ancient Egypt – as fundamental to shaping the way we communicate today. Were it not for paper, everyday tasks of reading and writing would have suffered a painfully slow evolution. Modern day institutions, such as schools, libraries, churches, law courts, all rely on paper in some way or another to function. Although computers and the internet are replacing paper communications in many ways (and thankfully saving more and more trees), paper in all its many manifestations still remains central to our daily lives.