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The Many Uses of Papyrus Illustration

Ancient Egypt for Kids
The Many Uses
of Papyrus

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Papyrus was a weed that grew wildly along the banks of the Nile River. It grew about 10 feet high. It was used to make everything!

The ancient Egyptians used papyrus to make paper, baskets, sandals, mats, rope, blankets, tables, chairs, mattresses, medicine, perfume, food, and clothes. Truly, papyrus was an important "gift of the Nile".

 They even tried to make boats out of papyrus, but that did not work very well. Papyrus absorbs water. Boats made of papyrus would become waterlogged and sink.

Using papyrus to make boats might not have worked, but making paper out of papyrus worked very well. The ancient Egyptians soaked papyrus to soften it, and then mashed it. They pushed the mashed papyrus together into sheets, and let the sheets dry. Then they cut the dried papyrus sheets into strips. They piled several strips on top of each other to make a thick paper. They beat the stack with a hammer to mash the strips together. Then, they placed a weight on top of each stack. That made the paper thin and sturdy. The final step was to dry to stack. That's how they made paper.  

The ancient Egyptians used papyrus to make books. But they were not books like our. Ancient Egyptian books were made from long strips of papyrus paper. The end of a strip was pasted to another strip, to form a long and thin continuous writing surface. Someone one end, and sometimes both ends were fastened to a stick of wood, or if you were very rich, a thin stick of ivory. Most papyrus books were only a few feet long. But some were very long, over 150 feet long!

But still, it was paper made of papyrus. That meant that even thought it had been beaten to a pulp, twice, and dried, twice, it would still absorb water. To make sure what they wrote down was protected, the ancient Egyptians only wrote on one side of a sheet (thin strip) of paper. When the paper was full of writing, they rolled the paper into a cylinder with the writing inside, and left a hole down the middle. That way, if the paper picked up any moisture, it could dry more easily.

Gifts of the Nile

Interactive Quiz about Ancient Egypt (with answers)