BEIJING, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- A 2,000-year-old piece of paper inscribed with legible handwriting has been found in Gansu Province, suggesting China's paper-making and handwriting history are older than previously thought.
The 10 square centimeter piece of paper, made from linen fibers, was found during restoration of an ancient garrison near the Yumen Pass at Dunhuang in northwest China. The garrison was in use during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-25 AD), a report in the Beijing-based Guangming Daily said.
Experts say so far over 20 ancient Chinese characters on the paper have been identified, and that the piece of paper was likely part of a letter.
"The paper was made in eight BC, more than 100 years ahead of Cai Lun who used to be widely considered the inventor of paper-making process in China. It also shows that the ancient Chinese have been writing on paper for much longer than we thought," said Fu Licheng, curator of the Dunhuang Museum.
Cai Lun, a craftsman of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 AD-220 AD) imperial court, is now believed by experts to have improved the paper-making process in 105 AD, making paper possible for mass production. Cai's paper making process used tree bark, cloth, and fishing nets as raw materials.
According to the report, ancient paper has been found over the last 20 years in Dunhuang, where used to be one of the ancient Chinese military strongholds, and a major exchange spot on the Silk Road. The oldest piece of paper found by now was made in about 65 BC, 170 years ahead of Cai Lun. But no handwriting was found on the previously found paper.
Paper is prided as one of the four great inventions of the ancient Chinese, alongside moveable-type printing, gunpowder and the compass.
The light, durable, yet cheap paper became most commonly used material for people to write on after the sixteenth century.
Prior to the invention of paper, people used various materials for writing, including clay tablets, palm leaves, goatskins, bones, bamboo, silk and papyrus, an Egyptian plant. Enditem