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|Papyrus reeds growing
at the University of Michigan Botanical Gardens
The papyrus plant grows wild in Egypt
in the marshes along the Nile river. In the ancient world, paper
was made exclusively from high-quality papyrus grown on plantations.
As a result, modern papyrus, which is made from wild plants, is
of a lower quality than ancient papyrus.
|A stalk of papyrus is clipped near
In ancient times, the entire plant was pulled from
the root at harvest time. It is unkown at what time of year the
ancient Egyptians harvested papyrus, or whether mature papyrus was
preferred over young papyrus.
|A cut stalk of papyrus
The stalk of papyrus is cut free from the base.
The triangular shape of the papyrus reed is clearly visible.
|Peeling the outer layer of the
In ancient times, the tough outer layer would have
been kept for other uses. Strips of this layer could be woven together
to form all manner of useful items, such as baskets or sandals.
However, only the inner part of the reed is used to make the writing
|Overview of the papyrus stalks,
peeled and unpeeled
In the photo you can see (left to right) an unpeeled
papyrus stalk, complete with flower; two peeled papyrus stalks;
and several strips of the papyrus' green outer layer.
|Cutting the papyrus reed into
|| Once the outer layer is removed, the inner part of the reed is
cut into strips. No one is completely sure what method was used in
ancient times. Rather than cutting the reed, as shown above, some
have suggested that the triangular stalk was peeled into strips.
|Several strips of papyrus
|| The strips should all be around the same length and thickness,
in order to create a consistent shape for the sheet.
|Soaking the papyrus strips in water
|| Soaking the papyrus strips is important for softening the papyrus
and activating the plant's natural juices, which act as a glue to
hold the strips together. In ancient times, it was thought that the
mystical Nile waters were essential to the papyrus-making process,
but any water will do.
|Rolling out the papyrus strips
|| After they have soaked for a few days in water, a wooden rolling
pin is used to drive out the water and flatten the papyrus strips.
|The papyrus strips are laid out
|| The strips of flattened, soaked papyrus are laid out in two layers
perpindicular to each other. This technique is absoluetly essential
to papyrus making, and is what gives papyrus its characterstic look
and feel. Here, each strip overlaps the next by 1/16 inch.
|The sheet is placed into a press
|| When the strips have all been laid out, they are covered with a
sheet of linen and felt, and then sandwiched between two boards in
a press. The sheet will remain in the press for a few days until it
|The sheet of papyrus is removed
from the press
|| The sheet is kept in the press for a few days, and the felt is
changed daily to aid the drying process. When the sheet is dry, it
is removed from the press.
|The finished sheet of papyrus
and a burnishing stone
|| Initially, the surface of the papyrus is somewhat rough. It may
be burnished slightly with a stone, and then it is ready to receive