Herodotus Returns

American paper made from ancient Egyptian mummies
January 4, 2010, 2:58 am
Filed under: Egypt | Tags: ,

A Worcester, MA librarian can prove that American paper manufacturers in the 1800s made paper from the wrappings of ancient Egpytian mummies.

Egyptian mummies were imported to America with great fanfare in the early to mid-1800s. They were paraded around at carnivals and exhibitions, announced with blaring newspaper headlines and in gaudy advertisements. People paid up to 25 cents — a huge amount of money in those days — just to see one.

When Ms. Wolfe started the project, experts told her she should expect to find about 350 mummies in the U.S. She has tracked down 560, she said, although some of them “have been reduced to hands, feet and heads.” …

The idea of using mummy wrappings to make paper might sound ridiculous to modern ears, but before paper manufacturers began using wood pulp to make paper in the late 1850s, paper was manufactured exclusively from rags. (Fine paper today — like dollar bills and fine writing paper — is still made from cotton and linen rags, Ms. Wolfe said.)…

Rags from Egypt were plentiful in the 1800s, as it was not just pharaohs who were mummified. Thousands upon thousands of ancient Egyptians were mummified upon their deaths. And modern Egyptians in the 1800s, even as late as 1880, had a thriving tomb-raiding business that involved unwrapping the mummies to find any valuables, then selling the rags and even grinding up the bodies for fertilizer….

More on mummy paper.


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