Egyptian ink papyrus reveals ancient writing practices

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The ancient Egyptians used, 5,300 years ago, black ink papyrus to write their texts. They made use of red ones to highlight titles, instructions and keywords. Scientists carried out a research to find out how ancient Egyptian made these texts. This is important to know if we want to go back to the history of writing in ancient Egypt.

Today, X-ray microscopic analysis of dozens of ancient papyrus fragments from the Roman period (between 100 and 200 AD) shows;

Egyptians used lead in the ink papyrus for their texts, not as a pigment, but because of its properties. Blotters, a practice similar to that used by Renaissance artists in Europe in the 15th century.

According to the study’s findings, 1,400 years before Raphael or Fra Angelico marked an epoch, the Egyptians were already careful not to smear their papyrus with fresh ink.

These findings forced researchers to re-examine the ancient writings of the Mediterranean. This is because blotting techniques were likely to spread much earlier than expected.

it was scientists of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France who carried out the research.

They received assistance from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Revelations about the ink papyrus

The study reveals important factors about the structure of the ink papyrus of a dozen ancient Egyptian papyrus from the library of the Temple of Tebtunis in ancient Egypt. This library is famous for its scientific documents and books on traditions.

The copies studied in this research project are exceptional. And this, only in terms of the ink papyrus.

“By applying 21st-century technology to reveal the hidden secrets of ancient ink technology, we are helping to uncover the origins of writing practices”. Explained Marine Cotte, a researcher at ESRF and co-author of the article.

“One very striking thing is that we discovered that lead was added to the ink mixture. Not as a coloring agent, but as a siccative, so that the ink remained on the papyrus.” Highlighted Marine Cotte.

The researchers drew this conclusion from the fact that they found no other type of lead, such as white lead or lead, that would be present if it was used as a pigment.

Moreover, “the fact that lead was not added as a pigment but as a blotting paper implies that the ink had a rather complex recipe and could not be made by just anyone”. Explained Thomas Christiansen, an Egyptologist at the University of Copenhagen and co-author of the study.