Chinese paper-making older than previously thought: study

BEIJING:  Chinese paper-making technology is about 2250 years old, 250 years older than previously thought, according to a new research.

Archaeologist Li Xiaocen has claimed that a new finding about an ancient scrap of paper is likely to be an evidence of the earliest on record, dating 250 years before Cai Lun invented paper-making technology in China.

The piece, about five centimetres long and two centimetres wide, was unearthed as early as 1986 in Fangmatan, an archaeological site near Tianshui City in northwest China’s Gansu Province.

However, it did not garner attention until 2012, when Li, an archaeologist at Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, found the piece had uneven fibre distribution when put under the microscope.

“The surface of the fragment is yellow and quite rough, and the fibres are randomly yet densely interlaced,” Li said.

“These are the traits of an ancient paper-making technology, very different from Cai Lun’s, that ethnic minorities in Tibet, Yunnan and Xinjiang still use to make Kongming lanterns and transcribe scriptures,” he was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency.

Li said the piece, dating back to the Western Han Dynasty,

is about 250 years older than Cai Lun’s invention.

But controversy remains over whether the strip should be identified as real paper.

Paper is one of the four reputed inventions of ancient China. Besides paper making, Chinese were credited to have discovered, compass, gunpowder and printing.

A crude type of paper was used as early as the Western Han Dynasty, or about 2,000 years ago.

However, Cai Lun, a Chinese eunuch in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), greatly reformed the art of paper-making and has been regarded as the inventor of ancient paper and the paper-making process.

Li disclosed his findings at a recent seminar, attended by over 160 archaeologists from China, Germany, Greece and Peru.

“Further research should be conducted on, for example, the beating degree of the pulp, the entire production process as well as the paper’s whiteness,” Chen Gang, professor with the department of cultural heritage and museology at Fudan University said.

“But Li’s research is helpful for us to understand the full picture of ancient paper-making technology in China”, he said. (AGENCIES)


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