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Research suggests Chinese paper-making older than previously thought


A Chinese archaeologist has announced new findings about an ancient scrap of paper, likely to be evidence of the earliest on record, dating 250 years before Cai Lun invented paper-making technology in China.

Research suggests Chinese paper-making older than previously thought
Page from one of the oldest surviving books on paper, 250 AD. The Phi Yü Ching on "liu-ho" paper made in Liu-ho in northern Chiangsu. It is made from six different materials [Credit: WikiCommons]
The piece, about five centimeters long and two centimeters wide, was unearthed as early as 1986 in Fangmatan, an archeological site near Tianshui City in northwest China's Gansu Province.

However, it didn't garner attention until 2012, when Li Xiaocen, 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 fibers are randomly yet densely interlaced," said Li. "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."

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

Paper is one of the four great inventions of ancient China. 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 said the fragment, dating back to the Western Han Dynasty, is about 250 years older than Cai Lun's invention. But controversy remains over whether the fragment should be identified as real paper.

"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," according to Chen Gang, professor with the department of cultural heritage and museology at Fudan University. "But Li's research is helpful for us to understand the full picture of ancient paper-making technology in China."

Source: Xinhua [November 30, 2016]
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