Ancient Paper

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11951

Where did paper come from? We don't mean the local stationery store, but when was it invented, and by whom? Yes, paper, like iPads, was invented. Learn to make your own paper, ancient Egyptian-style!



learning style
Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

Do you believe that, once upon a time, the only thing people wrote on was paper? Where did paper come from?

Today, there are many tools with which we write.

In addition to the traditional paper and pencil, we now have tools such as computers, iPads, and even programs that can turn voice recordings into print. In today's world, there are endless ways to record written language.

Many of the tools and devices we use to record written language have just emerged in recent years. Until recently, most societies relied on paper and a pencil or pen. Even the way paper is made has transformed throughout the years. The first paper was invented in ancient Egypt, a society in Northern Africa that lasted from around 3100 B.C. to 332 B.C. The paper they created was called papyrus. Does this word sound or look familiar to you? Tell your teacher or parent of what this word reminds you. If it sounds familiar to you at all, it is probably because that is where the word "paper" comes from.

Papyrus paper was made from the papyrus plant, a plant that grows along the Nile River and can grow up to ten feet tall. The ancient Egyptians used papyrus to make all sorts of items, including baskets, rope, furniture, and clothing. One of the best uses they found for the papyrus plant was for making paper.

  • To create the paper, the Egyptians would cut the papyrus stalks into thin strips.
  • The strips were then soaked in water to make them soft.
  • After the strips had soaked for awhile, they would arrange a series of strips vertically with the edges overlapping.
  • On top of the vertical strips of papyrus, they would arrange a series of strips horizontally with the edges overlapping.
  • Then, they would either beat the papyrus with a hammer or place a heavy object on top of it to mash the strips together.
  • Finally, the papyrus was left to dry.

When the papyrus dried, the Egyptians had a sturdy piece of paper on which they could write. In the previous lesson in the Ancient Egyptian Writing series, found in the right-hand sidebar under Related Lessons, you learned about the ancient Egyptians' written language. Tell your teacher or parent what you remember about this ancient written language.

The ancient Egyptians would write their hieroglyphics on the papyrus. Sometimes, the papyrus was used to create books, but ancient Egyptian books did not look like the books we have today. Today, books are created by layering pieces of paper on top of one another. The ancient Egyptians made books by pasting a new piece of papyrus onto the end of the previous page. Most ancient Egyptian books were a few feet long, but the largest ancient Egyptian book that has been discovered is more than 150 feet long! The image below shows a piece of papyrus with hieroglyphics written on it. Tell your teacher or parent what you observe about the early form of paper:

papyrus parchment with hieroglyphics

You probably noticed a few things. First, the papyrus is slightly darker than the white paper most people use today. Also, if you look closely, you can see the vertical and horizontal lines where the papyrus strips have been layered on top of one another.

Before moving on to the Got It? section, you will watch a video that explains the history of paper. As you watch Do you know How Paper was Invented? Watch History of Paper to know more! from Roving Eyes, discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • Where does the word "paper" come from?
  • Who invented paper?
  • How does the process of making papyrus relate to the process of making paper today?

Image - Video


You probably noticed that the process used to make paper today is very similar to the process used by the ancient Egyptians. Today, we use wood instead of papyrus, but the wood is soaked until it becomes soft. Then, it is mashed together and dried to create paper.

When you are ready, move on to the Got It? section to further investigate the ancient Egyptian process of creating papyrus.

Image - Button Next