Egypt : Papyrus Institute

Papyrus is the material which the ancient Egyptians used for writing. Currently it is the word for the most popular gift from the country. Sheets of papyrus with scenes of temple drawings and pharaonic figures painted on them are highly portable and make very good souvenirs. But unfortunately there is so much fake papyrus around that unless you have a knowledgeable local whom you can trust your money with, you are better off buying the them from the papyrus institute.

The papyrus institute is a government approved shop making and selling authentic papyrus. It is located in Giza next to the pyramids. People in the shop will also walk you through the entire process of its manufacture. Papyrus is made from the stalk of the papyrus plant which has a very brittle interior inside a tough exterior covering. The cross section of the stalk is triangular resembling the sacred shape of the pyramids. First the outer covering of the stalk is removed and the interior is cut into thin strips and hammered to remove the water. This process also makes them less brittle. The strips are then soaked in water to reduce the sugar content from 20% to 10%. Then they are arranged horizontally and vertically interlocking with one another in the form of a mesh. The mesh is then kept pressed for 6 days under heavy iron presses. During that time the papyrus must be taken out periodically to remove the excess water. In ancient times, heavy limestone blocks were used to achieve the dual purpose of pressing the papyrus and absorbing the excess water. The papyrus made in this way is of very high quality and is fairly tear resistant.

The fakes are normally either not soaked well or not pressed for enough duration and often are partly and wholly made from banana leaves! It is very hard to say the fakes from the original with an untrained eye unless you do a destructive test of how easily they tear. Normally the fakes are accompanied by equally spurious certificates from the papyrus institute. Hence despite the fact that the papyrus institute is the costliest place to buy papyrus in entire country it is easily the safest.

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