Paper was invented by the ancient Chinese in the 2nd century BC during the Han Dynasty and spread slowly to the west via the Silk Road. Papermaking and manufacturing in Europe started in the Iberian Peninsula, today's Portugal and Spain and Sicily in the 10th century by the Muslims living there at the time, and slowly spread to Italy and South France reaching Germany by 1400. Earlier, other paper-like materials were in use like papyrus, parchment and vellum. In India, around 1000 B.C to 1500 B.C they used leaves such as palm leaves, banana leaf amongst other naturally occurring bark and leaf, the rishi's wrote the first text, The Holy Vedas which were till then passed on as an oral tradition.
In medieval Europe, the hitherto handcraft of papermaking was mechanized by the use of waterpower, the first water papermill in the Iberian Peninsula having been built in the Portuguese city of Leiria in 1411, and other processes. The rapid expansion of European paper production was truly enhanced by the invention of the printing press and the beginning of the Printing Revolution in the 15th century.
The word "paper" is etymologically derived from papyros, Ancient Greek for the Cyperus papyrus plant. Papyrus is a thick, paper-like material produced from the pith of the Cyperus papyrus plant which was used in ancient Egypt and other Mediterranean cultures for writing long before the making of paper in China. Papyrus however is a "lamination of natural plants, while paper is manufactured from fibres whose properties have been changed by maceration or disintegration.
Early papermaking in China
Papermaking has traditionally been traced to China about AD 105, when Cai Lun, an official attached to the Imperial court during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220), created a sheet of paper using mulberry and other bast fibres along with fishnets, old rags, and hemp waste, though the earliest piece of paper found, at Fangmatan in Gansu province inscribed with a map, dates from 179-41 BC.
During the Shang (1600–1050 BC) and Zhou (1050-256 BC) dynasties of ancient China, documents were ordinarily written on bone or bamboo (on tablets or on bamboo strips sewn and rolled together into scrolls), making them very heavy, awkward, and hard to transport. The light material of silk was sometimes used, but was normally too expensive to consider. While the Han Dynasty Chinese court official Cai Lun is widely regarded to have invented the modern method of papermaking (inspired from wasps and bees) from rags and other plant fibers in AD 105, the discovery of specimens bearing written Chinese characters in 2006 at north-east China's Gansu province suggest that paper was in use by the ancient Chinese military more than 100 years before Cai, in 8 BC. It therefore would appear that "Cai Lun's contribution was to improve this skill systematically and scientifically, fixing a recipe for papermaking".
The record in the standard history says:
In ancient times writings and inscriptions were generally made on tablets of bamboo or on pieces of silk called chih. But silk being costly and bamboos heavy they were not convenient to use. Tshai Lun then initiated the idea of making paper from the bark of trees, remnants of hemp, rags of cloth and fishing nets. He submitted the process to the emperor in the first year of Yuan-Hsing [+105] and received praise for his ability. From this time, paper has been in use everywhere and is universally called the paper of Marquis Tshai.
The manufacture may have originated from the practice of pounding and stirring rags in water, after which the matted fibres were collected on a mat. The bark of Paper Mulberry was particularly valued and high quality paper was developed in the late Han period, which used the bark of the than wood. In the Eastern Jin period paper began to be made on a fine bamboo screen-mould, treated with insecticidal dye for permanence. After printing became popular in the Song dynasty the demand grew more. Paper was often used as a levy, with one prefecture sending some 1.5m sheets of paper to the capital as tribute up to the year 1101.
The first use of paper has been excavated in China dating to the reign of Emperor Wu of Han from the 2nd century BC, used for purposes of wrapping or padding protection for delicate bronze mirrors. It was also used for safety, such as the padding of poisonous 'medicine' as mentioned in the official history of the period. Although paper used for writing became widespread by the 3rd century AD, paper continued to be used for wrapping (and other) purposes. Toilet paper was used in China by at least the 6th century. In 589, the Chinese scholar-official Yan Zhitui (531-591) wrote: "Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes". An Arab traveler to China once wrote of the curious Chinese tradition of toilet paper in 851, writing: "...they [the Chinese] do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities; but they only wipe themselves with paper".
During the Tang Dynasty (618–907) paper was folded and sewn into square bags to preserve the flavor of tea. During the same period, it was written that tea was served from baskets with multi-colored paper cups and paper napkins of different size and shape. During the Chinese Song Dynasty (960–1279) not only did the government produce the world's first known paper-printed money, or banknote (see Jiaozi and Huizi), but paper money bestowed as gifts to deserving government officials were wrapped in special paper envelopes.