From Scratches to Printing Press: The Evolution of the Books
No other invention in human history created more impact than the book. Each of us owes our knowledge to every book we read. Hence, society as a whole will never reach progress without books.
Join us as we explore the evolution of books. What are its beginnings? How did it change the world?
It all started with symbols
There came a time when the earth’s early inhabitants grew tired of using hand signals to convey a message. They wave and shake their hands. For a more aggressive show, they stomp their feet and jump. These are just some actions to express feelings or emotions.
Then, someone had a bright idea. Using soft clay and a stick, they scratch their ideas into cave walls. Some on anything found within the environment. This is the birth writing. These drawings depict life during those times.
Soon, those scratches became symbols to express thoughts. The beginning of books is because of the collection of these ideas and expressions.
The known origins of early books are in Mesopotamia at around 4000 BC. The Sumerians call it cuneiform. Inscriptions are wedge-shaped, following the form of the stylus. Its purpose is simple. People just want to keep records but little did they know that it will inspire the evolution of human knowledge.
The Portable Papyrus
It’s hard to imagine if books remained as clay tablets. Transporting it will be difficult. Can you imagine yourself carrying blocks of it? Writing on a slab of clay can be messy. Authors would have the dirtiest job in the world!
Thanks to the Egyptians, books had an upgrade. Using papyrus (a material made from papyrus plant), they created several books, and among the famous ones is the Book of the Dead. Their writing form known as hieroglyphics went down in history as one of the earliest writing forms.
So, why is the invention of papyrus significant? Its portability. People can carry them easily because they are lightweight. Papyrus is also fast and easy to produce. Through this precursor to modern paper, scholars gained access to information from the olden days. In fact, some papyrus documents still exist.
It’s not a perfect medium, but it is crucial in understanding the evolution of mankind.
How did they write the early books?
A book is not a book if not written with a system. A writing system is crucial to the development of books. Among the notable writing systems used before were:
- Sumerian Cuneiform
- Egyptian Hieroglyphics
- Chinese Oracle Bones and Bamboo Book
- Mayan Glyphs
These books use common materials like clays, papyrus, bones, shells, stones, and tree bark. Later on, the Chinese invented paper. It was then introduced to Europe through Arab scholars and traders. Marco Polo even mentioned paper as a material in writing books when he visited China.
Parchments: Stepping up to the next level
The emergence of the book culture increased the demand for more volumes, and it required durable materials. That’s why an alternative material called parchment was developed. Parchments came from durable animal skin like sheep, cows, or goats. The first use of parchment is as early as 1500 BC, but it became widely used during medieval times. This is where books containing laws and other legal codes were written. The oldest parchments are Gutenberg Bible with 12 out of the 48 that have survived to this day.
Printing Press and the First Books
If China is the birthplace of printing, Europe is where the modern printing press began. All thanks to the efforts of Johannes Gutenberg. In 1436, his invention of the printing press brought books to a new level of production and distribution.
The majority of the first books by Gutenberg were religious. The most famous is the Gutenberg Bible. Other books were The Psalter, The Book of Hours: A devotional, and The Catholicon.