Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Parchment - writing an animal skins?

In the Roman times parchment was a common writing material, although quite expensive, as it was made of animal skin, also known as “membrana”. The actual name “parchment” was found later in late antique times in sources by Edict of Diocletian (VII38).

Parchment started competing with Papyrus from around 400 A.D. and eventually took over papyrus.
This happened especially because parchment was easier to produce since it was available nearly everywhere due to the simple raw materials needed. Papyrus was a lot more difficult to produce and production availability was limited to plants that only grew in a few regions such as North Africa and Syria.

This was the beginning of the use of parchment in the literary world also because writing errors can easily be erased and fixed in parchment, unlike with papyrus which was harder to fix.

The production of parchment happens in several steps. The animal skin is put in lime lye where the hair detaches. Adjacent is the skin stretched into a wooden frame and still in wet condition scraped with a knife.
When all hair residues are removed, the surface can be smoothened to become a writable surface. This costly process hasn’t changed for thousands of years and is still today traditionally exercised.

Writing on goat or sheep skin is not only a special writing experience, but one can produce something that is durable and eccentric – decorative, rustic and impressionable – but also suitable for the day to day use like to protect books. Hence, it is not only something that was used by Romans, but still very common for important documents in the Middle Ages, but also in modern times.

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