|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.
|Paper, like papyrus, is made from plants--usually flax or cotton. The fibers are soaked until they soften and separate; the resulting paste is then spread and formed on a screen, pressed, and polished. Developed in china, the technique of Papermaking spread east via migrating Mongolians and ultimately to the Maya in Mexico, and west via Samarkand to Islamic lands and finally Europe.
|The smooth surface of parchment allowed for a finer, more controlled hand, and the reed brush used for papyrus was replaced with a firmer goose quill pen. Paper was even more accepting; writing could be accomplished generally with an animal-hair brush, ink pen, lead pencil, or even a lump of charcoal. The introduction of parchment and paper had a dramatic effect on the appearance and quantity of text that could be produced conveniently. Both materials were conducive to use in a codex, or book-like, format, and both could accommodate illustration and decoration as easily as they did writing. They would transform the way many cultures viewed the role and function of text.
The art of fine writing was prized in east Asia where the ideographic alphabet limited literacy to an elite few. In China and Japan, brushwork and image took on the same aesthetic. In the Islamic world, where the word was more highly valued than the image, calligraphy played a special role in the making of the Qur'an. And before the advent of printing in medieval europe, scribes copied religious and secular documents, often embellishing them with illustrations and fanciful letters. In all of these societies, the scribe and calligrapher enjoyed high status.
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