Parchment first emerged as a common writing surface in response to a shortage of papyrus in Pergamon in the second century BCE. It was made of goatskin that had been soaked in lime and scraped to remove hair. The surface was then burnished with pumice to create a smooth surface for writing. Even finer than parchment, vellum was made of calfskin and often coated to make the surface exceptionally smooth.

The method of writing varied according to the material. On stone, letters could be incised or written with ink; clay could be impressed before drying; and metal could be cast in a mold. Because many of these surfaces are durable, a fortunate number of texts survive from the ancient world, albeit in fragmentary condition.

While those ancient texts that have prevailed demonstrate the longevity of the medium on which they are recorded, they also reveal the role and function of writing in the cultures they represent. The hard surfaces of stone, wood, or metal were not easily inscribed, and this difficulty restricted both the choice and the amount of text recorded in this fashion. Clay and papyrus, though more easily harvested and manufactured, possessed equally limiting characteristics that made them vulnerable to destruction. Those ancient cultures that utilized these materials to preserve their written record, chose their words carefully. Much of what today would be written down as text, survived in the ancient world through the oral tradition.