What Were the Different Materials Used for Writing in Ancient Times?

Writing is one of the most important inventions in the history of human civilization. The ability to record and communicate thoughts, ideas, and information has been a game changer for our species.

However, writing as we know it today is a relatively recent development. Before the advent of paper and pens, ancient civilizations used various materials to write on.

Clay Tablets

One of the earliest forms of writing was on clay tablets. This method was used by the ancient Sumerians around 4000 BC.

Clay tablets were made by pressing wet clay into a rectangular shape and then leaving it to dry in the sun. Once the clay had hardened, a stylus was used to make marks or impressions on the surface.


Papyrus is another material that was commonly used for writing in ancient times. It was made from the pith of the papyrus plant, which grew abundantly along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt.

The pith was cut into thin strips and then laid out in two layers, with one layer running horizontally and the other layer running vertically. The layers were then pressed together and left to dry in the sun, creating a sheet of paper-like material that could be written on using ink.

Animal Skins

Animal skins were also used for writing in ancient times. Parchment was made from animal skins that had been soaked in water to remove any hair or flesh. The skin was then stretched out on a frame and scraped with a knife until it was smooth and thin enough to write on with ink.


In some cases, stone was used as a writing surface. The Rosetta Stone, for example, is a famous historical artifact that contains inscriptions in three different scripts: Greek, Demotic (a form of Egyptian script), and hieroglyphics (the traditional script of the ancient Egyptians). The inscriptions were carved into a slab of black basalt stone, which was then placed in a temple in Egypt.


Metal was also used for writing in ancient times, although it was relatively rare due to the difficulty of working with metal. One example is the Copper Scroll, which was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Copper Scroll contains a list of locations where treasure was supposedly hidden and was written on a sheet of copper.


In conclusion, ancient civilizations used a variety of materials for writing, including clay tablets, papyrus, animal skins, stone, and even metal. Each material had its own advantages and disadvantages and was suited to different purposes.

Today, we take for granted the ease with which we can record our thoughts and ideas on paper or digital devices. But it’s important to remember that writing has a long and fascinating history that has shaped our world in countless ways.