In Europe the use of papyrus had begun to decline in the 9th century, partly replaced by imports of paper from Arab trading centres such as Damascus, but largely replaced by the use of parchment – smoothed and scraped animal skins. Although a fine material, it was very expensive and available only in limited quantities (it has been estimated that a single bible hand-written on parchment required the skins of 300 sheep).

Even when paper began to be made across Europe, its widespread use was hampered by ‘political’ problems. Partly due to its perceived Muslim origin and partly because of the influence of the wealthy landowners with financial interests in sheep and cattle, a Papal Decree of 1221 declared that all official documents produced on paper were invalid. Not until the 15th century would paper begin to be widely used for all documents.

When Johann Gutenberg perfected movable type and printed his famous bible between 1454 and 1455, he not only spread the word of Christianity, but also sparked the first revolution in mass communication.

The birth of the modern paper and printing industry is commonly marked from this date although it was to be another 250 years before western ingenuity turned the promise into a reality.