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Writing Materials in Ancient Egypt

by DaVaun Sanders, Demand Media

    Writing was an intrinsic part of ancient Egyptian society. Egyptians used many of the raw resources at their disposal to not only carve symbols, and eventually, texts into clay tablets and rock surfaces, but to also manufacture paper, create ink and other pigments, and store their documents and records.

    Clay, Wood and Stone Surfaces

    As with many other developing forms of written communication in early world civilizations, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were impressed on clay tablets for record keeping. The earliest forms of Egyptian writing are dated to 3000 B.C. Wood was also used as a writing surface, such as for carving symbols into coffins. Egyptians inscribed texts upon their building surfaces, including the limestone, sandstone or granite of their temples and tombs.

    Papyrus Paper

    The process of creating writing surfaces from the raw materials of the papyrus plant was a significant development. Papyrus scrolls served many functions for accounting, record keeping, funerary texts and art. Papyrus was in use throughout the time of the pharoahs, with the earliest known example recovered from the First Dynasty tomb of Hemaka, an Egyptian official.

    Ink and Pigments

    Ancient Egyptians typically used charcoal or soot to form black lettering on papyrus. They burned oil or wood, then crushed the resultant residue and mixing it with water. Historians believe plant gums from the acacia tree family served to bind the ink properly to the paper. Other materials used for pigment include iron oxide, malachite and yellow ochre. Arsenic-based pigments such as realgar and orpiment were used to depict reds and yellows, but faded with light exposure.

    Tools and Storage

    Stone workers in ancient Egypt used hand-held stone tools for carving text, which were replaced in later eras with implements of copper, bronze and finally iron after 1000 B.C. The ancient Egyptians used brushes and pens made from reeds to write on papyrus paper. Scribes kept their brushes in palettes made of wood or occasionally ivory, with depressions designed to hold the black and red inks. Based on papyrus scrolls found in tomb excavations and how they were depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics, documents were stored in wooden chests, sacred statues or jars depending on the context of their writings.

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    About the Author

    DaVaun Sanders' passion for writing hails back to the summer of 2002. He writes regularly for PhxSoul.com, is a New America Media Ethnic Elders Fellow and is currently editing his first novel. Sanders holds a bachelor's degree in architecture from Washington University.

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