The Scriptorium Collection The Special Collections and Archives Gallery Exhibit
Brigham Young University-Idaho

The Scriptorium Collection
A History of the Written Word

The Ancient World

Scriptorium Exhibit Homepage
ancient writing materials
Modern reproductions of ancient world writing materials
A clay cuneiform tablet and a sheet of papyrus
Cuneiform nail & tablets
A clay nail covered with cuneiform writing and a small clay tablet (2000 BC)
The clay "nail" or cone was placed in a temple wall in ancient Sumer (modern-day Iraq). This cone is made of terra cotta and is about 5 inches long. Below the nail is a square tablet and a part of its clay envelope. Cuneiform writing was made in wet clay with a wedged shaped sylus. The clay was then allowed to harden.
illumination design
Roman Wax Tablet and Stylus (0-300 AD)
This everyday writing tablet is made by putting a layer of beeswax in a wood frame. The metal stylus was used to write in the soft wax that could be easily erased.
vellum pages, metal pen and shaped bird quill
Vellum Pages, Metal Ink Pen, and Writing Quill
Vellum is made from animal skin. Writing was done with a pen with a shaped nib or point. A pen could be made of metal, a river reed or bird quill. Ink was made of natural materials such as crushed berries, bark, or soot, and suspended in either water or linseed oil.
ancient papyrus
Greek Papyrus Fragment (0-70 AD)
A common "paper" of the Mediterranean region was made from papyrus, a reed that grows along river banks in Egypt. The stem is split into thin strips which are laid in a row one way. A second layer is laid across the first and then the layers is crushed together under weights. It results in a porus, light weight writing surface that accepts ink.
detail of ancient papyrus
Papyrus fragment detail
detail of modern papyrus
Detail of modern papyrus
In this close up of modern papyrus, you can see the stems of the papyrus plant.
Cuneiform is one of the earliest known forms of writing beginning about 3000 B.C. The Sumerians created cuneiform by imprinting pictures onto a clay tablet using a stylus, forming wedge-shaped symbols. The word cuneiform comes from the Latin word cuneus, which means "wedge".
An early form of paper produced from the pith of the papyrus plant. Papyrus was first known to be used in ancient Egypt, but was also used throughout the Mediterranean region and throughout inland Europe and Southwest Asia.
The term vellum was used to indicate the best quality of skin used for printing. Vellum was typically calfskin that had been soaked, limed, scudded and stretched to make it very thin and opaque. Vellum could be made from a variety of animals like calves or sheep. Vellum was widely used and appears in some famous writings, such as the Torah, Gandharan Buddhist texts, and some of Gutenberg's first Bibles printed in 1455.
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