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Papyrus
Ancient Egyptian: pa-per-aa
Arabic: bardiyya
Hebrew: gome



Papyrus sheet with coptic script.
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Papyrus sheet with coptic script.

Papyrus plants.
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Papyrus plants.

Ancient writing material, made from the papyrus plant, the Cyperus papyrus. The name comes from Greek "papuros", and it is possible that it has its roots in Ancient Egypt, with the expression "pa-per-aa", "coming from Pharaoh". The most common Egyptian words were "wadj", "tjufy" and "djet".
The papyrus plant thrives in quietly flowing water up to 1 metre deep. It can grow to become 4.5 metre high. It has woody, triangular stems. The Nile offers excellent growing conditions for the papyrus plant. Still, in modern times, the plant has largely disappeared from its original habitat.
The making of the papyrus for writing was involved cutting the papyrus stems into thin strips. The fibrous layers were removed. Two layers of strips were pressed together, one crossing the other. This was dampened and pressed or hammered together. A sap from the papyrus strips functioned as glue
The papyrus plant had many other uses as well. It was used to make cloth for sails and other purposes; mats and rope.
Papyrus was well fitted the dry climate of Egypt, but is in more humid climate exposed for mould that can destroy it.
The use of papyrus spread all over the eastern Mediterranean, and was used by both the Greeks and the Romans. While new types of paper, like parchment and vellum was widely available before the 3rd century CE, the production and use of papyrus would thrive a few centuries into the era of Arab Muslim control of Egypt. But by the 8th and 9th centuries new types of paper had become more popular, and by the 12th century the use of papyrus was completely gone.
In modern times there is some use of papyrus. In Egypt this mainly serves the tourist industry's demand for hieroglyphic imagery on papyrus. The reintroduction of Egyptian papyrus did take a surprising detour, as papyrus plants at first had to be imported from France.




By Tore Kjeilen