News ID: 204100
Published: 0453 GMT November 11, 2017

Ink from ancient Egyptian papyri contains copper

Ink from ancient Egyptian papyri contains copper

Until recently, it was assumed that the ink used for writing was primarily carbon-based at least until the fourth and fifth centuries AD. But in a new University of Copenhagen study, analyses of 2,000-year-old papyri fragments with X-ray microscopy showed that black ink used by Egyptian scribes also contained copper — an element previously not identified in ancient ink.

According to, in a study published in Scientific Reports, a cross-disciplinary team of researchers showed that Egyptians used carbon inks that contained copper, which has not been identified in ancient ink before. Although the analyzed papyri fragments were written over a period of 300 years and from different geographical regions, the results did not vary significantly:

The papyri fragments were investigated with advanced synchrotron radiation based X-ray microscopy equipment at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble as part of the cross-disciplinary CoNext project, and the particles found in the inks indicate that they were by-products of the extraction of copper from sulphurous ores.

"The composition of the copper-containing carbon inks showed no significant differences that could be related to time periods or geographical locations, which suggested that the ancient Egyptians used the same technology for ink production throughout Egypt from roughly 200 BC to 100 AD," said Egyptologist and first author of the study Thomas Christiansen from the University of Copenhagen.

The studied papyri fragments all form part of larger manuscripts belonging to the Papyrus Carlsberg Collection at the University of Copenhagen, more specifically from two primary sources: The private papers of an Egyptian soldier named Horus, who was stationed at a military camp in Pathyris, and from the Tebtunis temple library, which is the only surviving large-scale institutional library from ancient Egypt.

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