Lecture April 10: Papyrus, the Plant That Changed the World
The Northern California Chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt; the Department of Near Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley; and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley, are sponsoring the following lecture:
Papyrus, the Plant That Changed the World
By Dr. John Gaudet
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 10, 2016
WHERE: Barrows Hall, Room 20, Barrow Lane and Bancroft Way, UC Berkeley
There is no admission, but donations are welcomed.
About the Talk
In ancient times, papyrus grew thickly along the banks of the Nile River, all the way from Lake Victoria to the delta at the Mediterranean shores. From Neolithic times to about 3000 BC Egyptian civilization might not have developed without papyrus. In the Nile Valley, to do things on a day-to-day basis you had to be able to get out on the water, so the ancient people used papyrus boats the way people use fiberglass boats today. They also found they could use the boats to build houses on. And you could do all kinds of things with papyrus: as you can imagine, you can make baskets out of it, you can make sandals and an incredible amount of rope, a valuable commodity used by the developing navies of the time.
Quite apart from their usefulness to people, papyrus swamps - one of the most productive ecosystems on earth - played a key role in creating and maintaining habitats for birds, fish, and mammals.
Ancient Egyptians in 3000 BC turned papyrus into paper and for the next 4,000 years provided the world with the medium of choice. First used to record their Book of the Dead, a scroll that was buried with them and acted as a guide to the underworld (Dr. Gaudet will bring along a replica of such a scroll and some sheets of papyrus paper), it was ideal for keeping business accounts, temple records, medical texts and hundreds of thousands of books in the libraries of Alexandria, Athens, Rome and Constantinople. Almost all of the Western world’s literature and sacred texts in that time were recorded on papyrus.
We will travel through today's African water world where papyrus swamps used to abound. A grim tour of devastation will take us from the Nile delta, which is subsiding, becoming saline and dangerously polluted; past the ancient swamps of Lake Chad, a system that had almost dried up; to the largest listed wetland in the world, the Sudd in South Sudan, where efforts to drain the Jonglei Canal triggered a water war.
About the Speaker
A Fulbright Scholar to both India and Malaya, John Gaudet is a writer, lecturer and ecologist (Ph. D. Univ. Calif., Berkeley). He is the author of many scientific papers on the ecology and development of papyrus swamps. His early research on the ancient aquatic plant, papyrus, funded in part by the National Geographic Society, took him to Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, and many other places in Africa where papyrus grows. His writings have appeared in the Washington Post, Salon.com and Huffington Post and he is the author of Papyrus, The Plant that Changed the World: From Ancient Egypt to Today's Water Wars, a book published by Pegasus Books. Harvard University’s Belfer Center voted it the ‘Innovation Book of the Week’ and declared it "A masterpiece of economic and historical botany." See more at: www.fieldofreeds.com or contact Dr. Gaudet at: JJgaudet | aol ! com.
Go to for a video promotion of the book Papyrus, the Plant that changed the world.