How to make deliciously messy Ancient Egyptian ink
(but no worse than poster paint in the classroom)
- Soot (if you or a friend has an open fire, this is very easy, otherwise, I can send you a small bag in the post for £2.50 plus P&P)
- Egg yolk (you can see how this is going to get very messy very quickly)
- Washing up liquid
- Mustard (optional)
- A few drops olive oil
- Mortar and pestle
- Some papyrus to write on
- Fine paintbrushes
- Little pots for ink
- Small jugs/pots of water
Scoop a couple of tablespoons full of soot into your mortar and pestle. You can invite the children to smell it to see if they can identify what it is before you get going. Since it is not so common for people to have open fires, a lot of them will be hard pressed to know what it is.
Grind the soot to as fine a powder as you can with the mortar and pestle. Having a really fine powder is the key to the best ink. If it is gritty you do not get such a rich even pigment. The children can all have a go. Be prepared to get soot everywhere.
Theatrically crack and separate your egg (or invite one of the children to if this looks a safe option), and plop the egg yolk into the soot. It does look spectacular at this point!
I have used a spoonful of made up Dijon mustard in this batch, to see if it helps it to emulsify (like in mayonnaise – but we aren’t really mixing oil and other liquids here). I like to think this has helped, but this is very much optional, and you may have people with allergies so miss this out if you like.
A few drops of washing up liquid to help it mix. (This was actually in a recipe for tattoo ink in prison, but I dare say scribes put all sorts into their own mixtures!)
A few drops of olive oil. I tried this to try to make the final ink on the page have a nice glossy finish, and it does seem to do the trick.
Mix it all together with a spoon. It feels as though it will never pull together at first – the soot really resists mixing in. Everyone can have a stir to see what it feels like. Finally it will pull together in a gloopy smooth glossy blob in the bottom. At the moment it will be too thick to write with.
You can put about a teaspoon full into separate pots and add a little water from a jug to get a nice writing consistency – just do a bit at a time, and test it with your brush until you can write a nice smooth line.
Children can write their names in hieroglyphs (see separate sheet on writing) or copy some hieroglyphs or copy or draw an ancient Egyptian style picture or god/goddess. It is a good idea to pencil it in first as once the ink is on, that is it, there is no rubbing it out.
The act of writing on the papyrus is quite special and allows you to imagine being a scribe, and think about the fluidity of the hieroglyphs.
If you look at the old scribes’ palettes, there are often cakes of dried ink in them. I am testing some blobs of the ink to dry to see if they will rehydrate with water like childrens’ paint palettes. I’ll keep you posted!
Happy ink making!