Just imagine Cai Lun.

Cai-lunThe Chinese government official and scholar is grinding up plants – mulberry bark, linen and hemp. He makes a big wet mush of separate fibers, then spreads it all out in a mat made of coarse cloth and a bamboo frame.

It looks like he’s got a mess on his hands, and chances are his family, friends and neighbors are making fun of him. But when he’s done, and the sun has dried the matted material, he’s made something really remarkable.

Cai Lun, 2,000 years ago, has made paper, and it will become one of the most important inventions ever.