A History of Publishing – Part 1

There have been many ground breaking breakthroughs in the world of publishing and the list of historic printing landmarks is long and extensive since the release of the very first printed book back in 808. It was called the Diamond Sultra, and consisted of seven scrolls that were originally printed using wood blocks. It is true to say that the printing industry has come a very long way from the very first clay tablets, and the industry has grown out of all proportions since the ancient days of its formation. This blog is a sort of timeline of the history of publishing and we start with Clay Tablets.

Clay Tablets

Today many of us read our favorite authors on electronic tablets, but in ancient Mesopotamia around 3,500 BC, people used tablets that were made out of clay to read the news of the day. This style of writing was known as cuneiform and was developed by the Sumerians. Cuneiform was a damp clay tablet that was written on, then dried out in some sort of rudimentary kiln or even in the sun. When the clay was put in the oven the clay became fixed and made the tablet long lasting and durable. This form of earliest recording of writing led to other developments in China and other ancient civilizations.

Papyrus Rolls

There is little known about the first and original papyrus rolls or where the first were produced, but the earliest surviving one is believed to date back to 2400 BC. It is made from the stem of the papyrus plant that was cut into strips then glued back together. The first pioneers of this technique were the ancient Egyptians, but closely followed by the Romans and Greeks.

Writing Systems

It was not until about 600 BC, that there began to be some sort of unified writing system that was starting to be developed in the Mediterranean civilizations. In most languages the format of writing from left to right was most common, however in both Hebrew and Arabic this was not the case, and they wrote from right to left. Before this common system was introduced writing could have been up and down also.


By around 200 BC papyrus was almost phased out in favor of parchment, and parchment could be made out of a number of materials but always an animal skin of some sort. A writer named Herodotus was one the first persons to have written on parchment in ancient Greek. And the first recorded library was a collection of parchment writings that the public were allowed to read.

Wooden Tablets

Obviously skinning an animal and drying it out was a time-consuming process and it was not long before an alternative method was used for recording writing. Book publishing gradually moved to wood covered in wax. The benefits of this medium were that the text was erasable, and these wooden tablets formed the very first sort of pages, as numbers of the wooden tablets could be tied together with some form of cord. This early book was called a codex, and this leads us quite nicely on to part two of our history of publishing and the invention of paper.