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Parchment
Arabic: barshmān
Hebrew: kelaf


Thin, processed skin, often used as a form of paper. Parchment is usually made from sheep, goats or calves.
The name comes from the city of Pergamun, corresponding to modern Bergama, Turkey, where the method of making parchment was developed in the 2nd century BCE.
Other types of writing materials made from skin had been used for a long time already. There are examples of this in Egypt, back to the 3rd millennium BCE, and from the 6th century BCE in Mesopotamia and in the 5th century in Anatolia.
But at Pergamun, new and finer techniques were developed. The result was a product thinner and cleaner than its predecessors. Parchment could be used on both sides, and it was flexible enough to bind them together as books. Before this, written material was stored as single leaves or rolled up.
Why this happened in Pergamun at this time is explained by stories that are clearly historical, but touch by legend-makers. The ruler of Pergamun, Eumenes 2 favoured the development of a library that came to challenge the position of the library at Alexandria. One version of the story tells that rivalry made the Egyptian kings forbid further export of papyrus to Pergamun. Another tells that the increase in demand for papyrus led to a situation of overharvesting and a potential of extinction.
Although parchment is a very attractive form of paper, it is far from problem-free: parchment reacts quickly to changes in humidity, forming permament bulks. It is also not waterproof, and it absorbs only moderately, forming raised beds for ink or paint. These qualities are appreciated by many, giving parchment a unique and lively appearance, but involved limitations when a neutral material was needed.
A special form of parchment is vellum, made from infant animals, benefitting from the delicate skin.
Parchment was gradually replaced by paper in the later Middle Ages, this especially came about with the introduction of printing, causing a drastic increase in demands, far exceeded the collected production capacity of parchment. Paper production had to be developed, and paper would eventually surpass the quality of parchment. Writing materials named 'parchment' are still produced, but no longer from animal skin. Rather wood pulp and rags are used, resulting in paper of fine quality.

The making of parchment
Fresh skin is first soaked in water for a day, then removed of blood and grime. The skin is then placed into liquid that helps remove hair, this could be for 8 days or more. Beer was one of many liquids used for this purpose.
After hair is scraped off, the skin is stretched out on a wooden frame. Knives or other tools were used to shave the skin down to perfect thickness.
Powders and paste of calcium was added to the surface to remove grease, this helping the ink used during writing to not run. Lime, flour, egg whites and milk were rubbed into the skins to make them smooth and white.
More expensive forms of parchment were dyed, in colours like purple, or even gold or silver.




By Tore Kjeilen