What is “Papyrus”?
Papyrus is a plant that grows in shallow water and can reach up to 5 feet in height. It is found in warm areas, such as Egypt and the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. It is a grass-like plant that contains a firm, central stalk with a triangular shape. This plant is part of the sedge family, and, in the wild, acts as both shelter and a food source for aquatic animals.
The papyrus plant was frequently used as a writing material in ancient Egypt and the surrounding areas. In order to transform the plant into a writing surface, the long stalk was cut into long, thin strips. These would be soaked in water and then laid vertically side by side. Another set of strips would be laid, side by side, horizontally over the first set, and the two layers would be pressed and dried. This created an incredibly durable writing surface, and multiple pieces of papyrus paper could be connected and made into long scrolls.
Many of the oldest surviving documents were written on papyrus paper. Passages from the Egyptian Book of the Dead as well as early Biblical texts (including portions of the “Dead Sea Scrolls”) have been preserved on papyrus. By the 8th century, other writing materials gained popularity, and papyrus was used less frequently for this purpose.
In addition to its use as a writing surface, papyrus was used in ancient Egypt for sails, furniture, baskets, mats, and even clothing items such as sandals. In many areas of Africa, papyrus is still used to make these durable, day to day items.
The papyrus plant appears frequently in Egyptian art, symbolizing Lower Egypt. The columns found in Egyptian architecture often take the form of papyrus stalks or the equally important lotus plant. In addition, the image of the papyrus stalk served as a hieroglyphic symbol in the ancient Egyptian writing system, indicating concepts such as “youth”.