Turning the Pages: Evolution of Books - Deepstash
Turning the Pages: Evolution of Books

Turning the Pages: Evolution of Books


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Turning the Pages: Evolution of Books

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Clay tablets and papyrus scrolls

  • Long before the use of paper, the Stimarians - people of Mesopotamia who lived around 3500-3000 B.C. - invented the Cuneiform writing system. It consisted of pictographs and phonograms that was etched on clay tablets. This method of writing was around for 2000 years.
  • Papyrus Scroll dates from around 2400 B.C. They were made from the stem of the Papyrus plant and were about 10 - 40 metres long. Ancient Egyptians used reeds or bird feathers to write on the scrolls.


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  • Codex is closer to modern books. The pages were made from folded leaves or parchments (animal skins) and bound together on one side, one after another. The earliest surviving codex dates back to the 4th century and is the greek biblical manuscript known as Codex Sinaiticus.
  • Paper was invented by Cai Lun, an official of the Chinese Imperial court of Eastern Han. He used tree bark, rags hemp, and old fish nets to make paper. Paper started to be used in China, then spread around the world. Illustrated handwritten manuscripts were seen between 400-600 A.D.


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  • Block printing probably originated in China. The letter of Chinese alphabets were carved in mirror writing on large wooden blocks. The ink would be applied to the entire block, and then paper was pressed against the block. The oldest surviving printed book is the Buddhist text, Diamond Sutra and dates to 868 A.D.
  • Movable type was invented around 990-1051 A.D. by Bi Sheng of China. He carved single letters on small pieces of clay or wood instead of carving the whole book on a single block. The blocks could be rearranged and reused.


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  • In the 1440s, Johannes Gutenberg started to experiment with movable types. He made a metal movable type system of casting letters with screw press and hand mould. The machine was semi-mechanic but was very effective.
  • The first complete book printed on the movable type was the Gutenberg Bible in 1455. 180 copies were created - 45 were printed on vellum (fine parchment) and 135 on paper.
  • Gutenberg's invention led to a revolution in printing all over Europe. By the late 15th century, 20 million books were published as well as newspapers, magazines, and other media.


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The invention of the computer, microprocessor, and the internet has created a major digital transformation to books. E-books (electronic books) have become common.

However, nothing can change the fact that a book in any form - physical books, e-books or audiobooks, remains a pleasure.


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