Papyrus once grew abundantly in the Nile Delta in Lower Egypt. The plant, whose stems can reach a height of several meters, provided material for a number of different purposes, as is already mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus. The flowers were used in bouquets and decorations, the rhizomes were eaten and used as fuel. The stems were used for making small boats and, certainly in early times, as building material for houses. They were also used to make ropes, mats, baskets, sandals, etc. Tomb illustrations often show papyrus being collected and papyrus boats being made. The best known use of papyrus, however, is as a writing material, the predecessor of paper.
Papyrus sheets had to be made from fresh papyrus. The pith was divided into strips which were laid next to each other, sometimes partly overlapping, and covered with a second row of strips laid across the first. The whole sheet was then beaten with a hammer or a stone while still damp, then pressed flat and dried. The strips stuck to each other without glue having to be used. The upper surface of the finished sheet was then smoothed with a pebble or a piece of wood. The colour of papyrus made in this way is off-white, as demonstrated not only by experiments but also by illustrations of papyrus rolls in tombs -- it only turns yellow with age. We do not know when papyrus was first used as a writing material. The hieroglyph for a papyrus roll was used right from the beginnings of Egyptian history, and an (uninscribed) papyrus roll has been found from Dynasty 1.