Cyperus papyrus or paper reed has a long history of use by humans, most notably by the Ancient Egyptians. It is native to Africa: growing abundantly in swamps and shallow water in wetter parts of the continent. It is nearly extinct in the Nile Delta. The making of papyrus paper is a labour-intensive process requiring particular skills that have been passed on from one generation to the next. The production of papyrus is costly and this paper is therefore not widely used.
After harvesting, the outer green rind is removed from the papyrus and cut into lengths of the required paper size. The sticky fibrous inner pith is then cut and hammered by hand. The strips are soaked in cold water for three days long enough to make them soft and flexible. They are subsequently dried in two layers: one with the fibres laid vertically and one horizontally. The sticky plant juices act as binder. The sheets are pressed by hand between carton. The carton absorbs any remaining moisture and is replaced by new carton every eight hours over a period of three days, until the paper is completely dry. To finish, a type of glue is spread over the paper’s surface for a silky-smooth top layer that prevents ink from running or blotching.