The first paper.

Papyrus may not have been quite as sturdy as clay tablets or stone, but it was certainly easier to manage and store for the ancient Egyptians. It was a revolution in documenting their lives.

Growing in the Nile delta region, the plant was cut, stripped and formed into the world's first type of paper.

The Delta reed is typically between two to three metres tall but can grow up to five metres. The paper comes from the stem.

How was it made?

It was made by stripping back the outer fibres of the stem to get at the pith in the middle.

The pith was cut into thin, but broad, strips about forty centimetres long. They were then soaked in water.

The strips were laid side by side, overlapping slightly.

A second layer of strips were laid over the top at right angles to the previous layer.

While still moist, the second layer was pounded into the first layer, creating a mashed mesh.

The sheet was placed under a heavy weight for compression eg. a stone slab.

The final stage after the sheet had dried, was to polish it to a shiny finish with a shell or piece of ivory.


When a sheet or two was not enough, the Egyptians created scrolls. By joining sheets together end on end they could keep longer documents in the one roll.

Although rot resistant, humidity in storage attracted damaging moulds that would attack and break down the sheets. A lot of exported documents found in more humid parts of Europe did not survive long. The dryer conditions of Egypt meant that documents created there seemed to survive the years better, and left explorers with better examples.

The Egyptians did attempt to preserve the scrolls as best they could from deterioration. As the pith varied in quality (the best was found in the middle of the stem) the quality of the sheets varied also. Scrolls used better, sturdier sheets at the exposed beginnings and ends and lesser quality sheets in the middle.

After a while, papyrus developed into the more familiar codex, or book, form of the modern world.

Papyrus was eventually fazed out in favour of the cheaper, pulped-paper materials.

Other uses.

* Food - The pith of young shoots could be eaten.

* Utensils - The roots could be made into bowls.

* Fuel - The roots could be burned.

* Boats - The stems were used to make reed boats. That included the sails and cordage.

* Footwear - Sandals could be made from the reed.

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