What is Papyrus?
The ancient Egyptians started making paper from the papyrus plant over five
thousand years ago and became one of Egypt's major exports. The modern word
"paper" originates from the word "papyrus".
is made from the Cyperus papyrus plant which grows well in
the Nile's fresh water. It grows in water up to about a meter deep
and can reach four and sometimes nearly five meters in height. The
stem at its broadest can be fifteen centimeters across. The stems
of the Cyperus papyrus plant are triangular in shape which helps to
give it the strength to withstand high winds without breaking.
Egyptian rulers realizing the importance of Papyrus, made its production
a state monopoly, and guarded the secret of Papyrus jealously. The ancient
Egyptians appeared to have used papyrus in so many ways. We know they
made paper from papyrus but they also used it to make sandals, wove it
into mats, baskets and fencing, made rope and also used parts of the plant
for food as well as a medicine. The reeds were bundled together to make
boats and dried to make fuel for fires. There are undoubtedly other uses
that the ancient Egyptians found for papyrus.
There was no real competitor to Papyrus until, in AD 105, a Chinese
court official called Ts'ai Lun invented paper. With the introduction
of paper making into Egypt, the production of Papyrus rapidly declined,
and eventually stopped. Papyrus was cultivated and used for writing material
by Egyptians until the eighth and ninth centuries A.D. when paper from
other plant fibers were utilized. By the third century A.D. the less expensive
vellum, or parchment, had begun to replace papyrus in Europe.
Unfortunately the art of making paper from papyrus was lost until, in
1965, an Egyptian scientist discovered the old lost secret of Papyrus
hand-making. Dr. Hassan Ragab reintroduced the papyrus plant to Egypt
from the Sudan and started a papyrus plantation near Cairo on Jacob Island.
He also researched the method of production.
Unfortunately, the ancient Egyptians left little evidence about
the manufacturing process. There are no texts or wall paintings
and archaeologists have failed to uncover any manufacturing sites.
Thankfully, Dr. Ragab finally figured out how it was done, and now
papyrus making is back in Egypt after a very long absence. Thanks
to Dr. Ragab, many tourists to Egypt are able to purchase papyrus
paper containing hand painted scenes and figures copied from original
paintings on tomb walls.
Today the most important uses of papyrus are that of ecological
resources. The rhizomes of the plant prevent soil erosion and trap
polluted sediments. A study from 1997 showed that Papyrus is useful
in wastewater treatment. The study showed that papyrus reduced the
amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater by more than fifty
percent in seven to eight months.