Not all writing in ancient Egypt took place in tombs and on temple walls – in fact most everyday records were recorded instead on rolls of Papyrus. Papyrus was one of the first forms of paper as we know it today, being fear easier to write on and much more portable than stone, it was of major importance in ancient Egypt. Papyrus was viewed as less permanent than stone, but in Egypt’s dry climate, some papyri have survived for thousands of years quite well.
In addition to being very useful the Papyrus plant was considered to have special religious significance – this was because its flower was thought to resemble the rays of the sun, and its stalk (which is roughly triangular when cut and viewed face-on) looks like the shape of a pyramid.
Like most things produced in Egypt, Papyrus plants grew along the banks of the Nile. It could grow to more than 10 feet tall with a diameter of four inches. To create papyrus sheets, it was harvested and the stalks were cut into sections about 12 inches long.
The tough green outer casing of the stalk was removed with a sharp knife or similar tool to get at the white, pulpy center. The outer casing was not thrown away – being strong and supple it was useful for making things like baskets and sandals.
The cylinders of pulpy inner-stem were then cut into thin strips. Next the strips were placed on a board and overlapped. Then this was beaten with a wood mallet or pressed so the sap comes out and serves as the glue that binds the strips together. The overlapping strips were left in the sun, and when they dried, each sheet would be burnished with a smooth stone to prepare the surface for writing.
Individual sheets could be glued together to make a papyrus roll as long as desired. Some are more than 100 feet long. Papyrus was used for bureaucratic records, literary productions, international commerce, and religious texts such as the Book of the Dead.
Papyrus used to grow wild in Egypt on the banks of the Nile, but modern industrialization has ended that. Today it is farmed to make into sheets so artists can paint ancient scenes to be sold to tourists. You can still buy sheets of papyrus in most large art supply stores (find some links below!) so you can try writing on the real thing should you wish!
Try writing on Papyrus!
As mentioned above, some arts and craft shops carry papyrus. You can also get genuine papyrus delivered from amazon! We recommend the following:
High quality scroll made from real premium papyrus 100 x 30 cm according to ancient original models of the Romans, Greek and Egyptians.
2 wooden rods made from durable beech wood, non-dyed, just natural wood.