Tuesday, August 2, 2011


     PREHISTORIC TIMES have given us engraved and painted artifacts of  bone, stone and cave interiors which show our cave-men and cave-women ancestors drew figures to represent various ideas; and just as importantly, for his/her contemporary prehistoric co-hominids to understand what was intended: Thought first etched, then etched-thought comprehended.

     FROM FIVE THOUSAND YEARS AGO or 3000 BC, archaeologists have unearthed copious remnants of Middle East pressed marks in dried clay or carved marks on stone. These markings called CUNEIFORM show us: merchandise was delivered, bills were owed and paid, even ancient laws from Mesopotamian [present day Iraq] kings were enumerated and codified. One holdover still practiced today in 2011 since those ancient times is that Cuneiform was written left to right; unlike later Mideast forms of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic script.

     HIEROGLYPHICS of Egyptians (2600 - 2160 BC) employed pictures to denote syllabic sounds as well as direct meanings finely tuned from our pre-historic cave days (i.e. drawing a bird to represent a bird). Later, Egyptian Demotic script replaced formal Hieroglyphic painting on walls and carving into stone; it became the mode of communication used extensively with the ease of natural inks and papyrus, which incidentally, the Egyptians invented. Papyrus, made from pulping the Cyperus-papyrus plant is both father and mother to paper: literally and figuratively [PAPYRus = PAPER].

     PAPYRUS SCROLLS were in use all around the Mediterranean throughout the various populated kingdoms when Jesus Christ was born. Immediately thereafter, unknown to the Middle East, in 105 AD, T'sai Lun of China is credited with inventing pulping the mulberry plant to make the first paper; it was much cheaper for Chinese artists than using silk; however this technique was not transferred to the Middle East and further westward until centuries later. Egyptian and Middle Eastern papyrus texts were written on one side of the papyrus scroll and divided into readable sections called "paginae" [pages]. Scrolls were called "volumes" which is Latin for "roll." Rolling, unrolling and rolling back up again was not only awkward but made it difficult to access specific sections. Eventually, scrolls were folded into an accordion format, which is a somewhat crude precursor of the book or codex type.

     CHRISTIANS around 325 AD, adopted the Codex Book of form-folding a sheet in half to create four pages; then bound these folded sheets together at a spine. This had the advantage of being opened to a specific section as well as the entirety being more portable. Historians tell us the Codex was used to consciously and deliberately separate Christian texts from earlier and more cumbersome Hebrew scrolls. The most famous of these Christian Codices which represents the zenith of hand-copying in Codex-form is known as the Book of Kells (completed around 790 AD in Ireland). This illuminated masterpiece features entire pages of illumination of "carpet pages" which were used to separate the books of the Four Gospels in the Holy Bible. Of course, it should be kept in mind that each individual letter was still meticulously drawn by hand. Copies -- mainly of Holy Bibles -- with all these writing strokes were always done by hand, with the exception of wood and metal blocks in the Far East which the Chinese had been using for centuries in art. Their blocks had to be carved by hand; however, pressing the block into ink then onto paper made dispersion of multiple copies possible; whereas, all Codices from 350 AD to 1455 AD were products of laborious and eye-straining copying or artistic creation with pen and ink, by hand no less.

     ANIMAL SKINS coevally were used to make Parchment for books, Parchment didn't replace various types of papers; but was not only extremely durable, but readily available in pastures underfoot. Sheep skins became one of the most luxurious and long-lasting modes in conveying thoughts during the 9th century. To hand copy just one Holy Bible, the hides of 300 sheep were required. Incidentally, for those of you who are squeamish, current academic commencement certificates are now written or printed on paper instead of sheepskin as in days of yore.

     JOHANNES GUTENBERG [1398-1468] made an epochal connection using three inventions he cobbled together; which included: mass-producing movable type [metal slugs for each individual alphabetic letter]; using oil-based ink; and taking the agricultural screw-press and converting it into a wooden printing press. Whereupon, the first and most monumental product was the printing/publishing of his Latin-Vulgate Holy Bible which took Johannes from 1452 to 1455 to produce.

     BOOK publishing, book mongering and book reading has been up-and-running since Johannes sold the first of his Holy Bibles. It took another century and a half before one of the most monumental changes in paper-making would evolve; as it happened in France and Germany during the late 1700's; and ultimately in the fledgling United States and Canada from 1820 to 1852; when spruce eventually won out as the cheapest and most abundant wood-pulp that could be treated with chemicals then produced as an economic and durable paper. No longer were rags, grasses, and wood-stems nor animal skins required to fill our ancestors' reading needs. This therefore was no pulp-fiction -- but a reality -- fundamentally replacing all other materials. The ubiquitous childhood slates with chalk learning boards were eventually discarded.

     BOO HOO is the lament we hear today from Borders Book Stores, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.dot.com because electronic books such as the KINDLE upon which you've got your greasy paws muckled right now, have begun to replace the necessity for paper and paper-book usage. Some might argue that books will never be the same; and thus, the change of writing and reading is presently making a gigantic turn in human history by communicating electronically, but still using the archaic image-transfer nonetheless. We can see in our own lifetimes that writing on paper progressed from pen and ink to the old Smith-Corona typewriter; to desktop keyboards on personal computers; and presently over electronic devices, These last technological leaps alone are a subject worthy of tomes and volumes. Crank up the pulp machines! Oops, on second thought, change your batteries or recharge your device.


  1. :) so sad. I love a good book. More that just the story inside there's the smell of it, going to the book store to hunt for it. A kindle is just not the same. Cuddling up in a chair with a kindle just doesn't sound right.

  2. Your not alone Rhoda. You hit the nail on the head with the "smell," the "hunt" and the "cuddling."