Did the Ancient Egyptians Make Paper (Papyrus) from Reeds?

The ancient Egyptians are known for many pioneering contributions to human civilization, from monumental architecture to intricate hieroglyphic writing. Among these innovations, the invention of paper, specifically papyrus, stands out. Papyrus played a fundamental role in recording and transmitting the culture, knowledge, and history of this ancient civilization.

Papyrus: The First Paper

Papyrus is a type of paper made from the stalk of the papyrus plant, a tall reed that grew abundantly along the Nile River in Egypt. This plant, Cyperus papyrus, was the key resource in the production of the world’s first known paper, providing an essential medium for writing and record-keeping in the ancient world.

The Process of Making Papyrus

The process of making papyrus paper was complex and required skilled craftsmanship. The outer rind of the papyrus reed was first removed, and the inner pith was cut into long, thin strips. These strips were then soaked in water to remove the sugars and starches, making them flexible and sticky.

Once soaked, these strips were arranged into two layers: one horizontal and one vertical, creating a kind of cross-hatch pattern. This arrangement provided strength and flexibility to the sheet. The layered strips were then pressed and dried to create a flat, uniform sheet of paper.

Papyrus in Ancient Egyptian Society

Papyrus paper was widely used in ancient Egyptian society across a range of activities. It was used in the administration for documenting laws, treaties, and taxation records. Priests used it for religious texts, and scholars for scientific and literary works. Additionally, because of its durability, it was also used for creating scrolls, books, and documents meant to be preserved for a long time.

Significance of Papyrus

The invention of papyrus was a revolutionary development. It provided a portable, relatively durable, and easy-to-use medium for writing, significantly enhancing the spread of knowledge and literacy. Without papyrus, many of the details we know about ancient Egyptian civilization, their beliefs, customs, and historical events, might have been lost.

Papyrus Beyond Egypt

The use of papyrus paper was not confined to Egypt. It was a major export item and was widely used throughout the Mediterranean world, including in ancient Greece and Rome. It was only replaced by parchment and later by paper when these became more cost-effective and readily available.


In conclusion, the ancient Egyptians did indeed make paper from reeds, specifically from the papyrus plant. This invention was a crucial development in human civilization, paving the way for better record-keeping, administration, and the spread of literacy and knowledge. The papyrus, with its humble origins in the reeds of the Nile, became a cornerstone of communication, forever changing the course of human history.

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British Museum: Ancient Egypt

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