ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian raw materials: Papyrus
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Papyrus

    A large part of life in Lower Egypt was based on the papyrus plant: It was used to make mats, sandals, rafts, and writing material; it fuelled fires, was eaten and its flowers collected and offered to the gods. Papyrus gatherers
Papyrus gatherers
From left to right: uprooting the papyrus stalks in crocodile infested marshes, bundling them and carrying them off.
Tomb of Ty
    Small wonder that it served as a symbol for Lower Egypt where large tracts of land were covered by it, and that its king wore a crown seemingly fashioned from it. The goddess Uto had a papyrus sceptre, as did, beginning from the Old Kingdom, Hathor and Bastet. Hapi, the Nile god, was depicted wearing a papyrus plant on his head.
    In the arts the papyrus symbolised the world which had emerged from the primordial waters and in architecture papyriform pillars bore the roofs of the temples, part of the daily reenactment of creation supporting the heavens.
    Since, man has succeeded in taming the river, destroyed the reed's habitat and caused it to become extinct in Egypt. It has been reintroduced on a small scale in the late 20th century to satisfy demands made by Western tourists.
    The numbers of the people gathering reeds in ancient times were apparently large enough for the author of the Satire of the Trades to include them in his list of unenviable occupations:
The reed-cutter goes downstream to the Delta to fetch himself arrows. He must work excessively in his activity. When the gnats sting him and the sand fleas bite him as well, then he is judged.

Food

    The lower part of the plant, immersed in water, was soft and less suited for manufacturing writing material than the tough upper part. It was not wasted though as it could be cooked and eaten:
... they pull up from the fens the papyrus which grows every year, and the upper parts of it they cut off and turn to other uses, but that which is left below for about a cubit in length they eat or sell: and those who desire to have the papyrus at its very best bake it in an oven heated red-hot, and then eat it.
Herodotus, Histories, Vol. 2

Woven artefacts

    According to the Harris papyrus Ramses III gave to the Amen priests
Papyrus sandals: 15110
Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 241
for the 20 day Usermare-Meriamon-L.P.H.-Making-Festive-Thebes-for-Amon celebrations; and seven centuries later seemingly not much had changed where priestly footwear was concerned, as Herodotus reports that Sandals - Source: UCL website
... the priests wear garments of linen only and sandals of papyrus, and any other garment they may not take nor other sandals ...
Herodotus, Histories, Vol. 2
And, as the picture on the right indicates, papyrus sandals were still used for ceremonial purposes in Roman times.
Papyrus sandal
Roman Period
Source: Petrie Museum website [1]
 
    Ropes, bags, baskets, and mattings were made from papyrus as well as from other materials.

Rafts and boats

    The first river craft made in Egypt were seemingly papyrus rafts. Reeds were tied together into bundles, from which boatlike rafts were built. Wooden boats were expensive: the raw material was of low quality and in short supply, and carpentry a specialised trade. For the ordinary Delta dweller who needed to get around in a region where roads were few and unbridged canals and river arms many, the advantages a boat had over a raft were offset by the easy availability of the papyrus and the small construction costs. Fishing boats - Source: P.Montet - La vie quotidienne en Egypte
 
Models of papyrus fishing boats
Source: P.Montet - La vie quotidienne en Egypte
 
    In boat and ship construction papyrus (and probably other reeds as well) played a small part as caulking material, and ropes and sails were at times made of it:
... they cut pieces of wood about two cubits in length and arrange them like bricks, fastening the boat together by running a great number of long bolts through the two-cubits pieces; and when they have thus fastened the boat together, they lay cross-pieces over the top, using no ribs for the sides; and within they caulk the seams with papyrus. They make one steering-oar for it, which is passed through the bottom of the boat; and they have a mast of acacia and sails of papyrus.
Herodotus, Histories, Vol. 2

Flowers

Papyrus flowers     Flowers of many kinds and in many different forms of arrangement were used for decorations. The Harris papyrus records the large quantities of flowers, among them papyrus, offered:
Papyrus flowers
Amarna
Source: Jon Bodsworth
Blossoms of the impost flowers: sunshades 124
Blossoms: tall bouquets 3100
Blossoms of the impost flowers: "garden fragrance" 15,500
Isi-plant: measures 124,351
Flowers: garlands 60,450
Flowers: strings 620
Blue flowers: ropes 12,400
Flowers for the hand 46,500
Flowers: measures 110
Lotus flowers for the hand 144,720
Lotus flowers: bouquets 3,410
Lotus flowers for the hand 110,000
Papyrus flowers: bouquets 68,200
Papyrus: [stems] 349,000
J.H. Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 244
    The lotus, in fact a water lily, which rose first from the primeval waters of Nun, may have been more impressive, but the amounts of papyrus flowers, symbols of triumph and joy, which were offered to the gods and the dead, were significant as well. Bundles of papyrus umbels were shaken in honour of Hathor and their rustling noise may have inspired the use of the sistrum during the goddess's worship.
    The temples were universes in miniature, and pools were excavated in their gardens and many of the most important plants were grown beside them:
I made for thee groves and arbors containing date trees; lakes supplied with lotus flowers, papyrus flowers, isi flowers, the flowers of every land, dedmet flowers, myrrh, and sweet and fragrant woods for thy beautiful face.
Offerings of Ramses III to the Heliopolitan Re temple.
Harris Papyrus
J.H. Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 264

Incense

    The tough outer layer covering the soft pith used for paper production, was not discarded. Most incense used in temples was imported from Punt, the aromatic gum of the Boswellia sacra and wood from fragrant trees. But seemingly the lowly reed was also burned as sweat of the gods falling to the ground.
Papyrus [rind] of the house of incense: 685
Papyrus [rind] worked into incense: various measures: 34,500
pHarris
Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 238, 241

Writing material

Rhind papyrus     As a writing material papyrus was used since the late fourth millennium BCE. It was produced in sheets by laying lengths of wet papyrus pith side by side, adding a second layer at a right angle on top, and fusing the pith by applying pressure. The product was then smoothed by rubbing it with a stone, shell or the like. The sheets were stuck together with starch-based glues to form scrolls [4]. Pliny the Elder described its manufacture in his Natural History. The strips he refers to were strips of the plant's pith.
Paper of whatever grade is fabricated on a board moistened with water from the Nile: the muddy liquid serves as the bonding force. First there is spread flat on the board a layer consisting of strips of papyrus running vertically, as long as possible, with their ends squared off. After that a cross layer completes the construction. Then it is pressed in presses, and the sheets thus formed are dried in the sun and joined one to another, (working) in declining order of excellence down to the poorest. There are never more than twenty sheets in a roll.
Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book XIII, Chapter 23 [2].
    Good writing papyrus was not cheap and rarely served every-day purposes.
To the scribe Nefer-hotep in l.p.h, in the favour of the noble god, Amen-Re, King of Gods, who makes you happy every day.
Further: If you have not written on the papyrus roll, send it to me. I am eager for it. See, I have found this bookroll in the possession of this man! Or else write to me about what you are going to do.
Fare you well in the presence of Amen.
Deir el Medina, 20th dynasty
A.G. McDowell, Village life in Ancient Egypt, Chapter 4, Oxford University Press
    Sometimes old writing was washed off or otherwise obliterated and the papyrus re-used. Both sides of the papyrus were generally written on.
 
    From the early second millennium on papyrus was exported, at first to the Levant: among the goods Wenamen received from Egypt to barter with were 500 rolls of papyrus. Papyrus reached Greece late in the first half of the first millennium BCE. By the first century CE the use of papyrus paper was common throughout the Mediterranean area. Tuyu

Cartonnage mask of Tuyu, 18th dynasty
Source: Jon Bodsworth

    During the New Kingdom cartonnage funerary masks became popular. They were made of several layers of - often used - papyrus scrolls or fabric which were stuck together with plaster and painted [3].

[4]
The common paper paste is made of the finest flour of wheat mixed with boiling water, and some small drops of vinegar sprinkled in it: for the ordinary workman's paste, or gum, if employed for this purpose, will render the paper brittle. Those, however, who take the greatest pains, boil the crumb of leavened bread, and then strain off the water: by the adoption of this method the paper has the fewest seams caused by the paste that lies between, and is softer than the nap of linen even. All kinds of paste that are used for this purpose, ought not to be older or newer than one day. The paper is then thinned out with a mallet, after which a new layer of paste is placed upon it; then the creases which have formed are again pressed out, and it then undergoes the same process with the mallet as before.
Pliny the Elder: Natural History, Book XIII, Chapter 26

 


 

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These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the content of these sites
 
Papyrus/rush work sandal, for ceremonial use[1] Papyrus/rush work sandal, for ceremonial use
Papyrus[2] Papyrus
Burial customs: cartonnages[3] Burial customs: cartonnages
From the World of the PapyriFrom the World of the Papyri
PapyrusPapyrus
Papyrus: A Blessing upon Pharaoh Papyrus: A Blessing upon Pharaoh by Elaine A. Evans

 

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