History on Scrolls, Writing, and Ink

This is probably the longest post I have done yet, so, grab some popcorn and enjoy reading my report on scrolls, writing, and writing ink and where they came from!


A scroll is a rolled up piece of flexible material that has been written upon or drawn on with either ink or paint. There are many different materials that can be used to make a scroll. Most scrolls are made of papyrus, vellum or parchment, paper, and some other materials that can be easily rolled. In Latin, scroll is voluman which is where we get our word volume.

Scrolls were the first form of editable record keeping texts that were used in Eastern Mediterranean and ancient Egypt.

Europeans used scrolls up until the Middle Ages, which is when they started using books or codices, however, official treaties and documents were written on high quality vellum scrolls and stored in fancy silver and gold cases. They were also written in Latin to show the importance of that scroll.

Asia used scrolls that were decorated with gold and written with calligraphic pens. China, Korea, and Japan used scrolls for the longest time. East Asia were also the ones that formed painting on long scrolls.

Scrolls have been dated back all the way to ancient Egypt. The Egyptians were probably the first to use papyrus as a writing material, because the papyrus plant grew abundantly along side of the Nile River. The Egyptians also used papyrus for making boots, mattresses, mats, ropes, sandals, and baskets.

Papyrus plant

Papyrus document

Vellum or Parchment:

Vellum scroll

Vellum or parchment is mammal skin that has been produced to write upon. Vellum comes from the Latin word “vitolinum” which means “made from calf”. Vellum was mainly made from young hoofed animals that were stillborn or unhealthy. Cows, deer, and sheep were the most used skins for making vellum. Animal skins were used to write on before papyrus. Vellum was also cheaper than papyrus so it was used more often.

Vellum deed with a seal tag dated 1638!

Jewish communities in Syria and Babylon wrote on deer skin scrolls, and still do in some areas.

Even though vellum was a cheaper material to write on than papyrus, Johannes Gutenberg’s first Bible was printed on vellum, because vellum is considered “high quality” and he wanted his Bible to be high in quality.

Vellum was also used for paintings before canvases were invented. Because vellum is durable, someone could send his painting over far distances without it getting ruined.

Painting on vellum

Vellum, in the later centuries, has been used like leather, to cover the tops of stiff wood and instruments. It is still being used to cover some instruments like the banjo and bodhran (a small instrument like the drum).

This is a bodhran that is covered in goatskin vellum.

The British are still using vellum to print out the laws that are made by Acts of Parliament.

“Paper vellum” ia an imitation to vellum. It is made from plasticized cotton. Paper vellum is translucent and is mostly used when tracing is needed. Blueprints are written on paper vellum.

Other Writing Materials:

Clay, wax, cloth and metal were also used as writing material in the earlier times, however, not for scrolls.

Clay is really easy to write upon. Unglazed pottery can be written on even after it has been fired. Unglazed pottery pieces were also used as a kind of “scratch paper”, as ostraka, and even tax receipts were written on old pottery pieces.


Wax was really good writing surface because it is reusable. It can be easily erased and re-written upon.

Cloth, like silk, was used along with vellum.

Lead was used to write on more than any other metal. Lead was used the most for curse tablets (curse tablets are tablets that have curses to harm people, they were written to the gods).

Stone tablets, clay and wooden tablets, and wax-covered wooden tablets are some of the first materials that were flat surfaces that were made specifically for writing.

Stone Tablets

In India, the bark of a birch tree and dried palm leaves were used as writing materials. Birch bark and palm leaves are still being used today, in India, to write important things on, like wedding invitations. Palm leave scrolls, however, have to be copied onto other palm leaves quite often because they will become crinkled and will tear.

Birch Bark

Writing Ink:

The Chinese invented what they thought to be the “perfect ink” to use on anything. It was made with soot from pine smoke, lamp oil, and the gelatin of donkey skin and musk.

The Chinese painted on scrolls to teach Buddhist moral lessons in the 4th century AD. The painted scrolls opened from right to left and had to be viewed on a table. On scrolls that were long and sacred paintings on it, you were only supposed to look at 2 feet of the painting at a time, otherwise the spirit that the artist left in the painting would disappear and the painting would be worthless.

Indians (from India) have their own special ink as well. It is made with carbon black that is in water, shellac in borax solution, soap, gelatin, glue, gum arabic, and dextrin. However, they really only use this ink for drawing purposes.

1772 was the year the first colored ink was made. It was invented in England and was a lighter blue in coloring.

Writing is the expression of language by letters, drawings, or other marks that have been put down on any sort of material. Drawings were made long before the writing of language. The first materials that were used for drawing on were stone walls inside caves.

Bound books or codices were invented by the Latins and Romans who saw that some scrolls, like different versions of the Bible, were getting to be way to long. Codices are like books, only they are made with high quality vellum.

One of the earliest forms of written expressions is cuneiform. Cuneiform is the system of pictographs that is written on clay tables by a reed. The reeds left a wedge-shaped dip in the drawings that gave it its name, cuneiform (cuneus is Latin for wedge).

Tally sticks were used to count before numbers were invented. Tally sticks are made of bones, wood, and even ropes were used to count.

Numbers were used to keep count on paper before writing down letters was even thought of. Most numbers were the influence for today’s letters.

It is possible that writing down letters was invented in two places, Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica (mainly Iraq, Iran, and parts of Mexico).

By Rayleigh Ann


All of the info was found on the Wikipedia.

This was another report that I assigned to myself. It took me about 3 weeks to finish this! However, this is by far my favorite report that I have written, so, I was not complaining about how long it took me! I loved doing all of the research that it took to write this essay!

I hope you enjoyed reading and thank you for taking the time to read.


2 thoughts on “History on Scrolls, Writing, and Ink”

  1. Very interesting!

    FYI: We can all tell your home-schooled just from lines like…”This was another report that I assigned to myself.” LOL! Yes I just had to put that in there! 🙂

    1. Thank you very much I am glad you can tell! I enjoy going to places like, say Splash Kingdom and getting looked at like I have 4 heads ’cause I said, “I can’t wait for school to start!”

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