Books and storytelling have long been part of our human identity
Alongside storytelling, older civilizations recorded their lives through cave drawings and stone carvings. But the earliest examples of “writing” – either on stone slabs or impressed onto pieces of bark were more to record numbers, lists, or convey information.
The Greeks and Romans invented wax tablets, which were blocks of wood layered with wax so you could scratch a message into them, then erase and re-use them again and again.
Books were created- from highly important information and religious texts, to glorious, wicked or wonderful stories! The first known story book ever to be written is The Epic of Gilgamesh : a mythical retelling of an important political figure, Gilgamesh (two-thirds god and one-third man), a ruler of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk (modern day Warka, Iraq) . There are a number of fragmentary versions of the story. The oldest known are dated around 2100 BC. Some scholars believe that these could be transcriptions of earlier Sumerian texts. Integrated versions have been found dating from around 2000-1700 BC. The most complete “standard” version was written on 12 clay tablets sometime between 1500 – 1200 BC. It was discovered in the ruins of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal’s library in Nineveh, which was the largest library in the pre- Hellenic ancient world. Clay tablets of the story are displayed at the British Museum in London.
The ancient Egyptians were the first society to use “pages”. They did this by weaving together stems of a papyrus plant, then flattening the woven stems by pounding them flat. This created a “page”, which, when glued together, became a scroll. In parts of the world, parchment such as calf skin or deer skin were used, because it was less likely to tear and there was a shortage of papyrus. The parchment was treated in alkaline then written over in ink.
This technique was used for hundreds of years and the Greeks and Romans adopted it. They carefully wrapped the scrolls around a large piece of wood so it could be stored or transported and then unwound in a grand gesture, to be read aloud. This method was used until the 8th century AD. Around 600 AD, hand-sketched illustrations began appearing on parchment. They were referred to as illuminated manuscripts and wonderful to behold, as they depicted the story to enforce the importance of the message. Alas, the beginning of picture books.
The first actual book written on paper is said to have been made in China. It was created using mulberries, hemp, bark and fish to form a pulp that was pressed and dried to form paper. Each sheet of paper was roughly the size of a newspaper and called a “leaf”. Hence the term “leafing through papers or books”. As soon as the leaf was printed upon with ink (by using wooden printing blocks), it was known as a “folio”, which is another word for leaf.
During the mid 1400’s, a German, named Johannes Gutenburg, built the world’s first printing press with removable type and printed the first documented mechanically printed book, The Gutenburg Bible. This changed conveying literary text overnight!
In 1832, the first book covers appeared. During the 19th century, aspiring publishers started printing hardback books aimed at wealthier households.
As I share this, I pause and reflect on the amazing process of how things came to be and how it shouldn’t be so easy to lose sight of the very history that allows me the lifestyle I live. Thank you to all of the great scientists, scholars, inventors and writers who afforded me the opportunity to experience this abundantly convenient and luxurious modern lifestyle, and fruitful existence.
Dishfunctional has some great reads available at a fraction of their original cost. If you are looking to add to your book collection or bank of knowledge, stop by. All hardback, paperback and audiobooks are BUY ONE GET ONE FREE today. We’re having a 20% off music sale as well.
We’re here until 5pm. 126 S Franklin St, West Chester, PA
If you offer non-profit support or run a free library and are in need of books, please contact us. We would be happy to contribute.