Mysteries of Samarkand paper

In the ancient land of Uzbekistan paper manufacturing began several centuries earlier than was first thought. It happened at least no later than the 6th century. A famous paper historian Nozim Habibullaev who has been the head of the Temurids Museum of Uzbek Academy of Sciences for the last few years, has come to that conclusion.

According to Nozim Habibullaev, the widely spread legend that the Arabs learnt to manufacture paper from Chinese craftsmen who were captured in 751 in a battle by the river Talas (present territory Kyrgyzstan), is contrary to fact Firstly, the Chinese authorities were not so unwise to include craftsmen who were bearers of manufacturing secrets in their troops and send them to remote areas. Secondly, at that time there were quite close economic relations between Central Asia and China owing to which Samarkand was informed about achievements’ of its eastern neighbour. These close contacts between them may be confirmed by that there were trade settlements of Sogdians (inhabitants of the Zarafshan and Kashkadarya river basins since first thousands B.C.) and Samarkand was their state capital. A new stage of the history of paper is connected with this ancient city which is about to celebrate its 2750th anniversary. In Samarkand paper was made of cotton remains and worn cotton clothes.

The cotton clothes processing instead of fibres of bamboo reed and mulberry which usually grew in particular location on earth, was of world-wide historical importance. After all, paper manufacturing did not longer depend on this raw plant material. It gave an opportunity to manufacture paper in any area of the world. But that did not happen so quickly because Samarkanders managed to keep the secrets of their manufacture.

According to Nozim Habibullaev, if the Arabs had indeed learnt paper manufacturing secrets, that technology would have entirely spread in the Caliphate which extended from Pamir to the Atlantic Ocean. First paper factories originated beyond Central Asia only in the 10th century, states a historic source. They appeared in the Middle East at that time.

Unlike the Chinese people, Samarkanders did not only discover a new raw material for making paper but also changed the technology of manufacturing paper. They began to prepare it in stone mills instead of stone mortar. It was easier to pound cotton fibre this way. The lighter a stone mill was the stronger was paper. The mill stones were winded by hand and later by cattle, and then water and wind power were also used. The factories were called paper mills.

The Samarkand paper was highly competitive with Chinese paper, stated experts of past centuries. A well-known historian and geographer of the Middle Ages Yakut, author of the treatise “To Acquaint Scientists with Information on Wise Men” informed that the ruler of Shiraz collected the best paper: “Samarkand and Chinese”. It should be mentioned that at present high quality paper is made of cotton fibre. This paper is used for important purposes: printing money and forms of documents of great significance.
Thanks to Samarkand paper, the scientific works of such famous Central Asian thinkers as Abu Rayhon Beruny, Ibn Sine, Al-Farghony, Al-Khorezmy and others have been preserved. The craftsmen of Tashkent, Bukhara, Termez, Khiva and other Central Asian cities used to manufacture well-known paper under trade mark “Samarkand”. The paper had been exported to dozens of countries for thousands of years.

Spain was the first to use the Samarkand know-how in Europe. It happened in 1150. At the same time, the immigrants from Samarkand helped the Spanish to construct a paper mill, informed a Spanish researcher of paper history Nozim Habibullaev during her visit to Tashkent. Paper manufacturing was also set up in Italy in the 12th century and later in other European countries. Samarkand paper manufacturing was halted in the 18th century because of internal wars. As a result, Samarkand paper manufacturers moved to other regions. Owing to these paper masters, especially, their heirs, paper manufacturing appeared in Kokand, exactly, in villages Kogazgar and Chorku. Here paper-craft existed till early 20th century. The Kokand paper did not compare well with Samarkand’s. The reason was that a part of paper manufacturing secrets was lost and another raw material: mulberry bark was used instead of cotton fibre. Europe transformed to making paper from wood later in mid 19th century.

Paper used to be made of stone and clay, wood and bone, skin and elm, wax and metal and papyrus and parchment, but mankind must thank paper for its revolution in handing over information. If there were not Samarkand paper manufacturing technology and movable type invented in China, European people would have to copy books by hand for many years. Consequently, literacy would not have widely spread. Paper is in high demand in computer century as well.

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