Despite the fact that several paper-development programs still exist in college chemical engineering departments around the world, paper is a product that most people take for granted. But when it first occurred, the development of paper technology encouraged the development of science, mathematics, literature, and religion, among other pursuits. One African culture--ancient Egypt, or Kmt (pronounced keh-MET)--is one of only a handful of cultures to have invented a unique form of written communication. Furthermore, Kmt culture created a medium that revolutionized written communication: papyrus (plural, papyri).

Papyrus--paper made from papyrus reeds--was developed around 4000 B.C.E. and provided a pliable and mobile alternative to chiseling rock or etching clay or stone tablets. The development of papyrus with the hieroglyphic writing system contributed to the development of Egypt as one of the superpowers of the ancient world. The durability and light weight of papyrus ensured its use until cheaper--but less durable--pulped paper was developed by Chinese bureaucrat Ts'ai Lun in 105 C.E.

With the adoption of pulped paper, the secret of making papyrus was lost until Egyptian scientist and diplomat Hassan Ragab rediscovered the ancient technique in 1965. After the papyrus plant was harvested, the green stalks were removed and the inner pith cut into long, thin strips. The strips were then hammered and soaked in water for three days until pliable and transparent. The strips were then removed from the water, cut, and placed on a cotton sheet, with each strip overlapping the previous one by about one millimeter. The overlapping was done in two layers -- one horizontal, the other vertical -- forming a criss-cross pattern. Another cotton sheet was placed on top and the whole thing was placed into a press and squeezed to transfer the moisture from the papyrus to the cotton sheets. Eventually the strips were joined together to make a single sheet of papyrus paper.

References

  Lawler. (June 2001). "Writing Gets a Rewrite." Science; 292: 2418-2420

  Papyrus Revival. (2004). Egypt-on-line. Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Egypt-on-line Web site on 5 January 2005.

  Daily Life. (2003). E-Museum. Retrieved from the World Wide Web, Egypt-on-line Web site on 22 December 2004.

Clinton Parks is a writer for MiSciNet and may be reached at cparks@aaas.org.