was the most important writing material in the ancient world.
The word "paper" derives from "papyrus,"
an Egyptian word that originally meant "that which belongs
to the house". Papyrus is a triangular reed that grows
along the banks of the Nile, and at an early stage of their
history the Egyptians developed a kind of writing material
made out of the pith within the stem of the papyrus plant.
Although Egypt exported its writing material to other parts
of the ancient world, few papyri outside Egypt survive. It
seems that the climate of Egypt and certain parts of Mesopotamia
favours the preservation of papyri in the debris of ancient
towns and cemeteries. When the Egyptians mummified their dead,
they first prepared the corpses and wrapped
them in linen. Then they covered them with pieces of cartonnage
covered with plaster and painted in bright wrapped
them in linen. Then they covered them with pieces
cartonnage covered with plaster and painted in brightcolours.
This cartonnage consists of several layers of papyrus.
The study of papyri is called papyrology. By far the majority
of the more than 50,000 papyri published since 1788 (out of
an estimated 400,000 preserved in collections around the world)
are quite fragmentary. The task of the papyrologist is not
only to decipher, transcribe and edit what is preserved, but
also to reconstruct what is lost between fragments and reconstruct
the whole. Most fragments of literature derive from rolls
of papyrus, which could extend up to 35 feet in length. Fewer
derive from leaves of codices, the "modern" book
form introduced in Rome in the first century AD that became
prevalent by the fifth century. Papyrologists approach the
papyri with different interests: literary, historical, or
linguistic. What unites them all is a common fascination with
the most fragile legacy of ancient Egypt: PAPYRUS.