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Did You Know?

Did You Know?

Was papyrus used for boatbuilding in Bible times?

Papyrus plant

IT IS well-known that papyrus was the chief writing material in ancient Egypt. The Greeks as well as the Romans wrote on papyrus. * It is less known that papyrus was used not only for writing but also for boatbuilding.

Two models of papyrus boats found inside an Egyptian tomb

Over 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah wrote that people living “in the region of the rivers of Ethiopia” sent “envoys by sea, across the waters in papyrus vessels.” Later, the prophet Jeremiah foretold that when the city of Babylon would be invaded by the Medes and the Persians, they would burn “the papyrus boats” of the Babylonians to prevent their escape.​—Isa. 18:1, 2; Jer. 51:32.

The Bible is inspired of God, so it does not come as a surprise to Bible students that archaeological finds show that papyrus was indeed used for boatbuilding in Bible times. (2 Tim. 3:16) What has been discovered? Archaeologists have found detailed evidence of papyrus-boat production in Egypt.


Paintings and reliefs in Egyptian tombs describe the process of harvesting papyrus and making boats. Men would cut the papyrus stems, tie them in bundles, and then lash the bundles together. Papyrus stems are triangular. So when tied tightly together, the stems form a compact, strong bundle. According to the book A Companion to Ancient Egypt, papyrus boats could reach a length of over 55 feet (17 m), allowing for 10 or 12 oars per side.

Egyptian relief describing the making of a papyrus boat


Papyrus was a readily available raw material in the Nile Valley. Moreover, papyrus boats were relatively easy to make. Even when wood became the main building material for large vessels, it seems that fishermen and hunters continued to employ papyrus rafts and small boats.

Ancient papyrus boats remained popular for a long time. According to Greek author Plutarch, who lived between the first and the second centuries C.E., papyrus rafts were still familiar to the readers of his day.

^ par. 3 Papyrus plants flourish in marshlands and in slow-moving waters. A plant can grow some 16 feet (5 m) tall, and the stem can have a diameter of some 6 inches (15 cm) at its base.