Monday, April 4, 2011

The Alum Scrolls of Eastern Turkey

Many materials have been used in the production of scrolls and books, and perhaps none has been rarer, or misunderstood as much as the use of aluminium as a writing-material.
Aluminium scroll-making was first introduced in Iraq and Eastern Turkey, and began soon after the smelting of Mongolian bauxite had achieved the subtlety to make it viable for weapons, ornamental decorations for Icons, and of course the thin sheets used for scrolls, made by laboriously hand-rolling using carefully honed and precise steel rollers mounted on hardwood frames.

Many objects, as this Imperial wall decoration for the Khan's royal bedroom, were only recently found to be tooled aluminium, painted using special veneers.

Aluminium Floral Decoration in Relief

Other uses included box and book covers, where the heavier Aluminium sheets of the early times were better suited and more durable, than woods and leathers.

Early Aluminium Box Cover

Special tools were need to work the stiffer, more brittle aluminium sheets, as opposed to softer and more pliable metals such as copper and gold.

Aluminium Scroll-making tools

Military use of Aluminium sheet, made into continous rolls from early wooden outdoor smelters, began with the making of the vast lists of personnel and supplies needed for the early Mongol campaigns.   The invention of 'tin-snips' of various sizes to accommodate the new medium was developed out of the popular sheep-shears originally used to remove wool.

The Legendary Aluminium Army Rosters,
Kublah Kahn, Copenhagen Museum
Early attempts to make Aluminium sheets involved the careful shaving of solid Aluminium bars, specially cast for the purpose.  A dedicated lathe was used equipped with a hardened steel blade, to shave the aluminium into thin continuous strips.   Below are pictured cast aluminium bars stored for use by the Mongol army accountants:

Aluminium Bars prepared for 'turning'.

In order to save costs and materials, aluminium was often made as thin as possible, and backed by heavy felt to give it durability and a solid feel.  But scribes were prone to poking holes in the thin surface, and so the practice was discontinued.
Mixed media Aluminium/felt scrolls
The Mongol artisans became very good at surfacing and patterning aluminium for decorative use in book manufacture.  Featured below are various Islamic patterns from the later Aluminium Age of the Levant.

Semi-automated pattern stamping from Turkey

Techniques of dieing and fixing color to aluminium, now known chemically as anodization, was practiced from ancient times, but improved as religious centers like Venice took up the expanding trade and manufacture of aluminium codices.

Aluminium scroll colors available c. 640 A.D.

Of course the new materials were applied in all spheres of life in this central area of Asia Minor.   Here below are displayed common cooking implements made from aluminium and more rarely, pewter.

Turkish Pottery from the Aluminium Era



  1. You forgot the paper hats that were all the rave of the time 0f 600 AD and by 714 AD they were banished by the president because it would prevent mind-reading.

  2. OMG. Seriously: do I have to come over there?


  3. The second thing I got her was a pair of sheep shears. It’s not as if we’ve got any sheep about the farm, nor nothing like that. It’s just that I thought they’d be handy for dealing with those big, bushy armpits of her. sheep shears