Most people know papyrus as the paper of the ancient Egyptians. But it had many other uses from making sandals to making boats. The earliest boats in Egypt were made from bundles of papyrus stalks. It grew throughout the Nile region, and often reached heights of four metres. To make papyrus paper, only the pulp was used. As the paper was such a vital commodity, and a major export to other countries, its method of production was a state secret, and nowhere in the literature of ancient Egypt is this secret revealed. All that is known is that it was made in individual sheets, which were often then stuck together to form long rolls - some up to 40 metres long. Papyrus grows in swampy areas, and needs a lot of water. After the Arab conquest of Egypt, papyrus production virtually ceased as they brought their own version of paper with them. The papyrus plantations were removed as the swamps were drained. The secret of making papyrus was lost with the losses of the plantations. In 1965, Dr. Hassan Ragab decided that he would re-introduce papyrus to Egypt. He obtained papyrus plants from the Sudan, and was successful in growing them in Egypt. But then he had to discover the secret of making paper from the plant. There were vague indications of how it was done in the works of the Roman historian, Pliny the Elder. It took him more than 3 years to discover the method of production that is used today. The papyrus plants are harvested between June and September. The stalks are cut into lengths of between 50 and 60 cms, and the green outer skin removed. The white pulp is then cut into thin strips, which are soaked in water for three days. This dissolves out sugars, salts and starch and softens the cellulose fibres. Then, the soaked strips are rolled, which makes them thinner and softer and also removes any remnants of sugars and salts. The strips are then soaked for another 3 days, during which time they become a creamy colour. Click here to see how a sheet of papyrus is made.