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Egypt - Ancient Paper: Papyrus

Cyperus papyrus with close up of flower clusters.
Cyperus Papyrus
Papyrus from Nes-min's Book of the Dead.
Papyrus Paper

Long before there were textbooks, newspapers or email, the Egyptians came up with a way to record history. They designed their own paper called papyrus from reeds. The word 'paper' comes from the Egyptian word 'papyrus' which means "that which belongs to the house."

Where Does Papyrus Come From?

Papyrus is made from a plant that grows on the banks of the Nile River in Egypt. The aquatic plant, Cyperus papyrus, grows up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) high. Its green, triangular stem has long, sharp leaves and flower clusters 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 cms) long. These flowers bloom at the tip. Egyptians used the stem of the plant for several purposes like making mattresses, chairs and boats but the most popular use was making papyrus.

How Is Papyrus Made?

One Roman writer wrote a detailed description of how papyrus was made. He said the outside layer of the stem was removed. The inner layer of the plant was sliced into long strips and placed side by side with a second layer on top at a right angle. Then the whole thing was soaked in water and pressed under a heavy rock for 21 days. The juice of the plant acted like glue and bonded the strips together. The outcome was a sheet, which was hammered flat and dried in the sun.

Papyrus - Did U Know?

  • Ancient Greeks and Romans started using the same method to make papyrus.
  • If papyrus has writing on it, we call it papyri. Few papyri that were made outside Egypt survived.
  • The climate of Egypt and certain parts of Mesopotamia preserved papyri in the ruins of ancient towns and cemeteries.
  • Egyptians used papyrus for 4000 years until other plants and trees were used to make paper for economical reasons. Papyrus is still made, but normally only as a tourist attraction.
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What Is Papyrus?

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