For Kids: Writing on Animal Skin

What is it made of? Ink, color, and gold on parchment

When was it made? Ninth to tenth century

Where was it made? North Africa or the Near East

Even more information


Unlike paper that is made from rags and fibers in the Islamic world, this page was created from animal skin! Known as “parchment,” this long-lasting material took a long time to prepare. A parchment-maker would first remove all the hairs and clean and dried the animal skin. The next step would be to stretch out the skin before preparing it for writing.

For a books with lots of pages, one would have needed the skins of many animals, often a whole herd of sheep, as many as five hundred or six hundred. Such requirements meant that manuscripts on parchment were very expensive. Not surprisingly, only the most important texts were written on animal skin, and only the richest people were able to afford them.

The text is written in Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, which we read from right to left. It describes duties for Muslims, how to be kind, compassionate, and respectful to others and take responsibility for ones’ behavior. The script with its square letters is one of the first to be developed for copying the Qur’an. You may notice red dots next to the letters. They were added to help readers pronounce certain sounds.


The person who wrote this text, known as a “calligrapher,” shortened some of the letters and words and lengthened others. Why would someone do this? The calligrapher wanted to suggest a neat, rectangular border for the script without actually drawing one. Today, this practice is called “justifying” the text. You can find justified text in modern books.


Find a rectangular shape, and then trace it onto a piece of paper. Write a sentence or two inside the rectangle you drew about the types of duties you have in your family. Like the calligrapher, try to write in a straight line while fitting your words within the shape. You may have to vary the space between letters to shorten and extend some words. It might be more difficult than you might think!

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