Early Forms of Books

History Of Books

Early Forms of Books

Transition to Paper

Printing Press Effects


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Clay Tablets

Clay tablets were used in 3 BC in Mesopotamia. By using a calamus, a triangle-shaped instrument, characters were made in moist clay. The tablets were then put in fire to dry them.

Ancient Mesopotamian Clay Tablet

Twenty-two thousand tablets were found in Nineveh, dating from the 7th century BC. This collection was identified as the library of the Assyria kings, who had entire workshops of copyists and conservationists.

When considering the progression of books, this collection illustrates organization, consideration for conservation, classification of information, and so forth.

Tablets were used until the 19th century in various parts of the world, including Germany, the Saharan Desert, and Chile.

Wax Tablets:

A close neighbor of the clay tablet was the wax tablet. Romans used a wax-coated wooden tablet (known as pugillares) that they could write on and erase by using a stylus. The stylus was pointed at one end, spherical at the other.

The entire tablet could be erased for reuse by warming it to about 50 C and smoothing the softened wax surface. The modern expression of "a clean slate" equates to the Latin expression "tabula rasa".

These pugillares were used for common, every day purposes such as accounting, bookkeeping, note-taking. Like the slate boards seen in later times, they were also used in the classroom to teach children how to write.

When combined together, these tablets could be assembled into a form similar to a codex -- a bound, hand-written book. Interestingly, the word "codex" means block of wood, which suggests it may have evolved from wooden wax tablets.  The punch holes below, illustrate how they would have been bound.

Ancient Roman Wax Tablet

The earliest surviving exemplar of a boxwood writing tablet with an ivory hinge was among the finds recovered from the 14th-century BCE Uluburun Shipwreck near Kaş in Turkey in 1986. In the middle of the 8th Century, the Greeks began using the folding pair of wax tablets, along with the leather scroll. In the first millennium BC, wax tablets began to replace clay tablets in Mesopotamia, Syra, and Palestine.

Wax tablets continued to be used for high-volume business records through the Middle Ages and well into the 19th century.

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