Monday, February 25, 2013


Yet More on the Smell of Burning Papyrus

Hello Michael Gilleland

Read your 2 posts on the pros and cons of burning papyri for the scent.

I worked extensively with papyrus plants in Uganda in the 70's and did a great number of nutrient analyses on all parts of the plant, for which the plant had to be ground up. The scent was distinct and real! My lab reeked of it for months. It is not as noticeable in the upper parts of the stem, flower or roots, but it increases dramatically in the base of the stem and the rhizome (the sprout from which the stems grow).

Also in Ethiopia found pieces of the dry stem in markets at herb kiosks where rough plant material is mixed and sold to be burned in large incense burners in the orthodox services.

Pliny called it the "aromatic herb" for a reason; and Prof. Naphtali Lewis was right, there is a natural incense compound(s) in the plant and thus in the paper.

The older papyrus paper dealt with by Grenfell and Hunt had long ago lost its essence as the paper they dealt with had dried in the desert air over centuries.

Sometimes I'm sure a resined or shellaced or tarred scroll would give off a strong scent of pine, acacia gum or bitumen, but when dealing with fresh material or scrolls tightly sealed the natural scent of papyrus is distinctly there.

Appreciated the translation of Schow and the additional comment by Eric Thomson.

Best Regards,

John Gaudet

(aka "BwanaPapyrus" on, also see my webpage

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