History of writing utensils


When I write this article, I am sitting almost completely surrounded by my school supplies. Highlighters, fine-liners, pencils and ball-point pens. It is sometimes difficult to imagine for me a time before there was such a thing as even a simple pen, of which there are millions, perhaps even billions, on the shelves of shops. 

The written word is what has allowed us as a species to document some of the greatest moments and even some of our greatest failures. Still, we aren’t automatically born with an understanding of how to make a pen or how to make or gather ink. Instead, the Ancient Babylonians and Sumerians used triangle-like implement that they used to write their stories, messages and information in the clay. This form of writing is called cuneiform, from the Latin word cuneus, meaning wedge, because of the style of writing. The triangle-shaped tool, the stylus, was used to form these wedge-like word-signs, which were basically pictograms and later, the inscriptions developed into phonograms which are closer to the modern-day concept of the written word. It was not only the Babylonians and the Sumerians that used this writing technique but also the majority of the Mesopotamian civilisations. Romans did a similar thing but with wax rather than clay. The issue with this was that the clay used by the Mesopotamians was heavy and brittle while the wax used by the Roman’s for writing was susceptible to heat and could easily melt away. This led to new types of writing utensils intended to solve this problem. 

One solution was found by the Egyptian, who invented and used a tool that is known as the reed pen. The reed pen was made of one piece of reed, around 20cm long, and was used to write on papyrus paper. They would dip the reed in to some ink. Inks are made from substances such as plants, animal matter and minerals and has been around for almost as long as the pen itself. An ink called masi was made using bones, tar and pitch, while the Greeks and Romans made it from soot, glue and water. In Europe, ink could even have been made using the branches of a hawthorn tree. The reed was then dipped into the ink and was used to write, though only a small amount of ink would actually cling to the reed and the tip of the reed would dull fairly easily and so the utensils were in no way at all long lasting. Still, it was an advancement in the tools that has led us to where we are today. 

As you can probably tell by the fact that you are currently reading this on your screen in clear text, we have come a long way since it was important that everything was written down on to paper or even clay or wax. Now that we have developed the means and technology to record all of our actions and occurrences down on the screen, it is far easier to document the world around us. Still, sometimes it is nice if we can go back to simply putting a pen on to a page.


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