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.
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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- University of Michigan: How Ancient Papyrus was Made
- Digital Egypt: Papyrus
- Brooklyn Museum: Pigments and Inks Typically Used on Papyrus
- British Museum: Creating Borders
- British Museum: Egyptian Blue
- McClung Museum: Papyrus
- British Museum: Historic Writing
- MET Museum: The Art of Ancient Egypt
- MET Museum: Statue of an Offering Bearer
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