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Inkstones in the Han Dynasty

Paper was invented in the Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). People began writing on paper with brush and ink and therefore needed inkstones to grind ink. The inkstones unearthed in the early Han Dynasty consisted of a piece of flat stone with a small pebble and a few small ink granules. The pebble could be used to press on to the ink granules and grind on the piece of flat stone. The ink granules then became fine particles floating in the water and forming the liquid ink ready for writing. The pebble for pressing on to the ink granules was called yan (grinder).

Later the shape of the ink changed significantly from small granules to stick shapes. This is because people found it more convenient to hold the inkstick by hand and grind on inkstones. Thus, yan (grinder) lost its function and disappeared. After the Western Han Dynasty, the inkstones did not consist of yan (grinder) anymore.

The inkstones from the Han Dynasty developed from stone plates accompanied by yan (grinder) to round-shaped and multi-legged pottery inkstones. This design had grown popular in China for over a thousand years until the Tang Dynasty during which inkstones in the form of a clog became the mainstream and eventually replaced the round-shaped and multi-legged pottery inkstones.

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