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Basic Information

Paper is a writing material made from processed vegetable matter, composed into thin, smooth sheets. Paper made from animal products1 is properly called parchment and is verry different stuff.

The exact source of the vegetable material used varies by period and culture - much of the classical world worked with paper made from Egyptian papyrus whilst the orient worked with papers made from mulberry and hemp. Modern paper is made from bleached wood pulp and even cotton rags have been used to make paper in the past. Hemp is also still very much in use, albiet normally for high quality papers such as are used for printing bank notes.

Where available, paper is normally far cheaper than parchment2 and contributes greatly to the spread of literacy and written records - some sources suggest that the interruption of the supply of Egyptian papyrus to Europe did a great deal to assist the slide into The Dark Ages. Paper is also far easier to process into books and scrolls. Against these virtues it lacks the mechanical strength and resistance to decay of parchment - although this is something of a double edged sword since a significant number of ancient texts have survived because their paper was discarded when the owner was tired of them rather than being recycled as palimpsest as parchment might well have been.

Besides parchment alternatives to paper include:

  • tablets of stone, clay, metal or wood
  • metal foil
  • plastic foil
  • tree bark
  • cloth

…all of which have their disadvantages.


1. full source reference

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