Egyptians Made the First Paper from Papyrus On the Banks of the Nile

by Tabitha Boyd, age 14

The Egyptians were among the first to make paper. The word paper comes from papyrus, a reed that grows on the banks of the Nile River.

The paper-making process starts with peeling the outer layer of the reeds. The pith inside the stems would then be cut into strips, soaked in water and placed in crisscrossed layers. Finally, the crisscrossed layers of pith were hammered until squashed and smashed together. A flat-surfaced tool called a burnisher was used to smooth and flatten out the papyrus and to make paper. A burnisher made of ivory with gold foil was discovered in the tomb of King Tutankhamun.

Other materials used for writing were recycled broken pieces of stone and pottery. These pieces are called ostraka. Young scribes would use ostraka for writing exercises and then have a teacher correct them. Experts estimate only about four out of 1,000 Egyptians could read or write. Among these were the scribes.

Scribes were professional writers who would copy official records, documents, letters, poems and stories. A scribe’s pen case contained reed pens and an inkwell. The ink was made by mixing either charcoal or soot with water. Scribes carried a grinder to crush the materials. Carved into the case would often be the scribe’s name, the employer’s name or the pharaoh’s name.

Working as a scribe often meant traveling on business to record official documents. Most scribes carried a portable palette for travel. They also had a briefcase to hold and protect their important documents.

The older, more experienced scribes trained the younger ones strictly and harshly. “Pass no day in idleness or you will be beaten,” wrote Amenemope, a teacher.

Scribes were often powerful people in ancient Egypt. The famous scribe Accroupi, who lived in Egypt around the time of the Old Kingdom, is survived by a statue that exists today. The high standing of scribes is confirmed in the text Satire of the Trades, which says. “Behold! No scribe is short of food and riches from the palace.”

It is no wonder scribes were envied for their relatively easy way of life.

[Source: The Encyclopedia of the Ancient World]