Ancient Egyptian paper, or papyrus, was made from the papyrus plant, which grew on the banks of the River Nile. Strong and durable, papyrus was used to make mattresses, chairs and boats, too. Papyrus was used so commonly by the ancient Egyptians as a material for books and records that the word 'paper' is derived from it. Papyrus is still made today using methods similar to those of ancient Egypt. With the right materials, you can make a variety of this ancient paper yourself.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
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Things you need
- Papyrus reeds
- Vegetable peeler
- Rolling pin
- Press or heavy book
- Smooth stone or shell
Peel the outer layers from the papyrus reeds. Slice the soft inner core into thin strips.
Place the strips of reed on a board. Beat them lightly with a rolling pin to flatten and break up the fibres. Finish by rolling the reed strips until they are as thin as possible.
Soak the strips of reed in a bowl of water for six days.
Place a vertical layer of soaked reed strips on a board. Once complete, overlap this with a horizontal layer of strips. Make sure the strips in each layer slightly overlap each other so they bond together properly.
Beat the woven strips with a rolling pin or mallet to further break down the fibres and bind the reeds together. Wrap the sheet of raw paper in a cloth, making sure to keep it flat. Place the papyrus in a press or under a stone slab or a heavy book with weights for six days.
Remove the papyrus from the cloth. For an authentic finish, polish with a flat stone or a smooth shell.
Tips and warnings
- For a darker coloured paper, soak the reeds for longer than six days.
- Papyrus plants can be grown in water at home. They can be purchased online from specialist suppliers such as Logee's Greenhouse. (See Resources.)
- If you can't find papyrus reeds, you can still make a quick version of Egyptian paper using the same principles but different materials. Soak strips of brown paper from a paper bag in a solution of glue and water, then layer the strips in the same way as the reed strips. Press for a few hours and then air dry
- Supervise children when cutting the reeds, beating the strips and pressing the papyrus
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