by Katie Hunholz, Somervell County Master Gardener Intern
With the current trend of viewing documents on the internet, writing letters via email, and reading books on ipads or Kindles, paper is slowly becoming a thing of the past. However, I believe that paper will never completely disappear, due to people who prefer being able to feel the paper in their hands rather than read it on a screen (I, myself, am one of those old-fashioned readers). I wouldn’t call myself a ‘tree-hugger’, but I do value trees for all the amazing materials they provide us, and for their beauty, and the part they play in the ecosystem. However, paper wasn’t always dependent on trees; it originally came from Cyperus papyrus.
The word ‘paper’ is derived from the Egyptian word ‘papyrus’. Paper- a thin, flexible material in sheets, made from rags, wood, etc., and used for printing or writing on (Webster’s New World Dictionary)– was first made from the papyrus plant, which originates from Ethiopia and Egypt. Papyrus, also known as Nile grass, or paper reed, can reach up to 15 feet tall, growing in water depths up to 3 feet. Despite its willowy appearance, the stem of papyrus was often woven into baskets, or even boats. With both strength and flexibility, papyrus was valued as a building material and a writing medium.
The use of papyrus as a paper originated with the Egyptians, about 4000 years ago. Paper made from papyrus comes from the pith, or core, of the plant. The pith is gently peeled into strips, which are then laid out in two layers, with the second layer being laid on top of the first layer, but at a 90 degree angle. The sugary sap from the plant acts as a natural glue, combining the two layers as they dry. The front side of the paper was always the side with the horizontal strips, not the side with the vertical strips. As other nations began to desire a way to transcribe their written language, the use of papyrus quickly spread; it was especially popular with the Greeks and Romans. Even after parchment was developed (a type of paper made from animal skin), papyrus was still desirable. However, the use of papyrus slowly began to fade beginning around 800 AD.
The creation of paper, beginning with papyrus, allowed countries to advance in culture and technology. Previously people had no way of communicating except through their spoken language. It’s difficult to imagine a world with no written documents, but without papyrus that would be our world. Unfortunately, papyrus is now rarely used as a paper, or as a building material. Its lack of use has led to papyrus being an endangered plant; perhaps it is time to begin the cultivation of papyrus once again. It would be a shame to lose such a significant plant with its historical, cultural, and technological value.
Laws, Bill. 2010. Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History. Quid Publishing. pp. 62-63.
Seid, Timothy. (2004). Papyrus. Interpeting Ancient Manuscripts.[Online]. Available: http://legacy.earlham.edu/~seidti/iam/papyrus.html.[7/14]