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Papyrus:

The Paper
Egypt Gave
the World

Name: Regina Best


ID# 0002697
Course Code: ARTH 321
Course Title: History of
Design
Tutor: L. Sten-Nicholson
Due Date: October 23, 2014

The paper we know as a writing material today was invented in ancient China around 206
BC to 220 BC; however other paper-like materials were used way before that period such as
papyrus, parchment, palm leaves and vellum. Papyrus could be said to be the very first paper as
Egyptians made it through a simple process from the Cyperus Papyrus plant found in Egypt
especially along the River Nile. This paper has been in use as far back as the 24th century BC
during the 5th dynasty of Egypt from the Old Kingdom. It is very functional as the plant was not
only used to make paper but also used for transport, craft and furniture along with many other
purposes. Papyrus was very important and sacred in Egyptians daily lives and symbolized lower
Ancient Egypt. The making of papyrus also became very important to the art and design of East
Africa and eventually the world.
After many years of using stone for developing their written language, the Egyptians
needed another medium in which to document and record their lives. It was around the Early
Dynastic period that they realized the papyrus plant was the perfect material for their records.
They chose this paper-like plant as it was light, strong, thin, durable and easy to carry, and for
thousands of years, there was nothing better for the purpose of writing. (Dunn, n.d.) This
triangular reed grew in the freshwater marshes along the Nile River and reached a height of
about 10 feet. It would be cut and then harvested to go through the process of making a tool for
painting and writing. This became one of Egypts most significant inventions at the time and
was very popular.
Ancient Egyptians made the papyrus paper first by cutting off
the outer green part of the plants stalk. This revealed the yellowish
white pith which was then cut into thin strips or as one thick strip. The
strips were sticky, very fibrous and so the sugar and water content had to be removed to give a

stronger and more flexible paper. It was then flattened by rolling out each strip to get rid of the
sugar and water. The Egyptians then put them to soak for about 3 or 6 days to get the colour of
paper they wanted. The longer the slices of papyrus stayed in the water, the darker the colour of
paper without affecting the quality of the paper. After the soaking process, the pieces were
woven together by crossing and layering the strips very closely together leaving no spaces or
holes in between them. (Tsuneishi, 2014) The pieces naturally stuck together without using glue
because of the gummy sugary content of the plant. After a sheet was completed, it was placed on
animal skin and then covered with another piece of animal skin to absorb any more water.
Heavy rocks and stones were used to press out the water by placing it on top the animal skin and
papyrus sheet for the same 3 or 6 days depending on colour. Next the sheet was removed and
placed in the sun to dry for one day. The paper result was brittle but flexible and the woven criss
cross pattern could be seen when held up to the light. This finished
sheet was used for paintings, hieroglyphic writings, stories, illustrated
manuscripts, religious books and writings and lasted for some
centuries. One example is the Book of the Dead written on papyrus which speaks about the
afterlife that Egyptians believed in. Papyrus paper played important roles as it helped Egypt to
portray their religion, their social life and also brought in capital, which improved their economy
since papyrus was used in the Kingdom of Kush and the Mediterranean region.
The papyrus plant was not only used for paper. This holy sedge plant was used to make
perfume which came from the flower; mattresses on beds, chairs, tables, reed boats, baskets,
rope, sandals, boxes, mats and utensils which were made from the outer green rind strips of the
stalk; food and medicine were also sourced from papyrus. An interesting fact about papyrus is
that it was called holy because of its flower that reminded the Egyptians of the suns rays and the

triangular stem which reminded them of their pyramids. All of these other uses including the
paper contributed to the history of art and design in ancient Egypt as they are all products of the
papyrus plant and examples of art and design.
From the oldest collection of papyri called the Abusir Papyri to the dying papyrus days in
the 11th century AD, papyrus was and is still seen as essential. It has impacted and influenced
paper making in China since recognizing its importance and even the world today. It now grows
in a rare and controlled manner and is shown and described to tourists of its history. This ancient
Egypt feature was quite interesting to research and aids Egyptian art and design history.

Bibliography

Dunn, J. (n.d.). Egyptian Papyrus Historically. Retrieved from Tour Egypt:


http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/papyrus.htm
Tsuneishi, M. (2014, March 11). How Ancient Papyrus Was Made. Retrieved from Library
University of Michigan: http://www.lib.umich.edu/papyrology-collection/how-ancientpapyrus-was-made
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCR8n7qS43w

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