Ancient Egypt was one of the most advanced and developed civilization. They were credited with some of the most useful and mysterious inventions, used not just in their times but also to the modern world. Many of their inventions are still used today in our everyday life which has evolved over the ages. Everyday essentials like toothpaste, calendar, makeup, and agricultural tools like the plow were first invented in ancient Egypt. The skill and level of analysis in these inventions is noteworthy. Here are the top 10 inventions of the Ancient Egyptian Civilization.’
10. The Pyramid
The Pyramids are perhaps one of the most well-recognized inventions of the ancient Egypt. The Pyramids were called ‘mr’ or ‘mir’ by the Egyptians and acted as a royal tomb for the deceased Pharaoh. Constructed for King Zoser, the oldest pyramid is as old as 2667-2648 BC.
It is also the first monumental stone building that is known to us. With a quadrilateral base that rises to form a triangular point, it was believed that the soul would travel to the afterlife of the Field of Reeds from the top of the structure and could also return back to earth.
There are over seventy pyramids. These pyramids were centers of great temple complexes back then. During the Fourth Dynasty in the reign of Snofru, the first today’s known pyramid was built.
Snofru had begun on his father’s pyramid at Meidum. The Great Pyramid of Khufu in Giza which is also the last standing structure from the Seven Wonders of the ancient world is the most exceptional in pyramid building. It covers a base of 13 acres and is composed of 2,300,000 stone blocks.
The ancient Egyptians are credited with the invention of the solar calendar. The solar calendar depicts the position of the earth while it revolves around the sun. The calendar was made taking the recurrence of Sirius, also known as the Dog Star in the eastern sky as the fixed point. It coincided with the yearly flooding of river Nile.
The calendars Egyptians had developed was closely tied to farming to keep a close eye on the annual flooding of the Nile. It was divided into three main seasons including inundation, growing, and harvest. Each month had 30 days and each season had four months and 360 days.
Five days were added between the inundation and harvest season making it 365. These five days were religious holidays honoring the Children of Gods. One day was added to the 365 days every four years by Ptolemy III Euergetes of Egypt.
8. Sun Clock
The Sumerian culture is thought to be the first to produce the sun clock or the sundial, but their culture was lost. Next in line was the Egyptian who produced some of the earliest sundials around 3500 BCE. Obelisks were used before sundials that formed a shadow.
it was possible to differentiate between morning and afternoon with their moving shadows.
The oldest surviving sundial was discovered in 2013 in the Valley of the Kings, the burial place of rulers from Egypt’s New Kingdom Period (1550 BC to 1070 BC), dating back to 1500 BCE. This particular sundial was found on the floor of a workman’s hut.
The Egyptian sundial divided one day into 10 parts with two twilight hours which was the morning and evening. The equipment included a long stem with 5 variably spaced marks.
When it was oriented east and west in the morning, at the east end an elevated crossbar cast a moving shadow over the marks. The device was turned to the opposite direction in the afternoon.
7. Toothpaste and Breath Mints
The bread that the Egyptians ate had a lot of grit and sand it in. Sadly, this wore out the enamel from their teeth. This led to their efforts in keeping their teeth clean by inventing toothpicks and toothbrushes.
These toothbrushes were frayed ends of wooden twigs. The Egyptians also invented the toothpaste made through powder of ox hooves, ashes, burnt eggshells and pumice.
A more advanced toothpaste recipe has also been found by archaeologists from the Roman occupation in the fourth century A.D. The recipe is written on papyrus also includes a how-to-brush guide.
Alongside toothpaste, the Egyptians also invented breath mints to ward off bad breath. The pulp of their teeth was exposed which made it vulnerable to infection.
Bad breath in Egypt was a symptom of poor health. The first mints invented included a combination of frankincense, myrrh, and cinnamon boiled with honey and shaped into pellets. This mint was used to cope with the unpleasant odors from the rotting mouths of the mummies.
6. Ox-drawn Plow
Historians believe that the plow originated in the Egyptian and Sumerian civilizations around 4000 BC. The plows were very simple and are now referred to as ‘scratch plows’ because they are unable to dig deep into the ground.
The instrument ran on elbow grease. Wall paintings show four men pulling the plow through the field together, depicting its simplicity and toughness in the heat of the day.
In 2000 BC, the Egyptians hooked their plows to oxen, which completely changed the agriculture scenario back then. Early designs show the horn of the cattle being connected to the plow, but it affected the animal’s breathing abilities. In later versions, the strap was used.
It was much more effective. This invention along with the fertile black soil beside the Nile River made agriculture much easier. It is still used in present-day in developing and underdeveloped countries.
3. Shave, Haircut and Wigs
Shaving, haircut and wigs invented in ancient Egypt has never gone out of style, with these widely being used even in the modern world.
Due to the scorching heat of the country, long tresses and beards made people uncomfortable and the Egyptians cut their hair short or shaved their heads and faces regularly. Being clean shaven was considered to be fashionable for a large part of their history.
The first shaving equipment included a set of short stone blades with wooden handles which was later replaced with copper bladed razors. This also gave rise to the barbering profession.
While the Egyptians had haircut and even shaved their head, they also used wigs. At times wigs were also a mark of social status. They used sheep wool and turned them into wigs and fake beards.
This was also worn by the Egyptian kings and queens. Fake beards of about 2 inches were worn by ordinary citizens while kings wore longer and more extravagant wigs and fake beards and had them trimmed to be square at the end. The Egyptian gods were believed to have even longer and luxurious beards.
As far as 4000 BC, the Egyptians had already invented makeup and cosmetics. They used it regardless of their sex and social status. It was used for aesthetic and therapeutic reasons.
For eye make-up, kohl was used which was made by combining soot with a lead mineral called galena to create the black ointment. By combining malachite with galena, green eye make-up was used.
Kohl was applied using a very small stick. Upper and lower eyelids were painted and a line was added as an extension from the corner of the eye to the side of the face.
Oils and unguents were used to protect the skin from hot air. Henna was used to dye the fingernails yellow and orange. The ancient Egyptians believed that makeup was magical and even had healing powers.
Eye make-up, for instance, were worn to ward off the evil eye and to protect their eyes from infection. Containers to keep the make-up and cosmetics were also invented.
Most people wore makeup themselves but for the wealthy, professional cosmetician was available. Makeup and cosmetics were considered very important for youthfulness and thus were also left in the tombs of the dead for their afterlife.
3. Papyrus Sheet
The Papyrus sheet is similar to a thick paper that was used as a writing surface during ancient times. It is believed that the first papyrus was used in ancient Egypt.
The Papyrus plan was once abundant across the Nile Delta. In ancient Egypt, the plant was known as djet, tjufi or wadj which stands for the concept of freshness.
Djema is the name given to the papyrus sheet formed after the plant was cut, harvested and processed into rolls. The name means clean or open referring to fresh writing surface.
The history of papyrus manufacture in Egypt dates back to 4th millennium BCE. The earliest evidence of the sheet was excavated in 2012 and 2013 at an ancient Egyptian harbor located on the Red Sea coast, Wadi al-Jarf.
The roll describes the final years of the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The papyrus sheet was used to write hymns, religious texts, letters, official documents, love poems, literature among others. The plant papyrus was used in building other artifacts including ropes, mats, etc.
2. Black Ink
Papyrus was first used as a writing materials in ancient Egypt. They mostly used black and red ink to write on the rolls. The black ink is often used for writing the letters of the hieroglyphs or heretic text and is mostly a carbon black ink.
This type of ink is very stable and does not fade or deteriorate the papyrus over which it is used to write. In ancient times, charcoal or soot was used to form the black lettering on papyrus. Oil or wood was burnt and then the resultant residue was crushed and mixed with water to form the ink.
Plant gums from the acacia tree family is believed to be the reason why the ink binds properly to the paper. Other materials are also used to form the pigment including iron oxide, malachite and yellow ochre.
Arsenic based pigments like realgar and orpiment were used to make red and yellow colour. But these colours often faded with light exposure.
The Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to develop their spoken language into a codified form of writing. Writing as believed by the ancient Egyptians was invented by the god Thoth and thus called their script the ‘words of gods’.
The earlier form of writings was in the form of pictograms. Most writing systems developed through pictures at the beginning but the meaning of the pictures were lost as it was modified into abstract forms.
While the writings of the Egyptians changed into hieratic they intentionally preserved the hieroglyphic pictures in their original style.
Writing in Egypt dates back to 3400 BC. One of the latest inscriptions in hieroglyphs was made on the gate post of a temple in Philae in 396 AD.
The hieroglyphic script was used for formal inscriptions on walls of temples and tombs, and the hieratic script was used for everyday writing. Some inscriptions in the glyphs are very detailed including color while some are simple outlines.
Change and modification is a part of the human nature evident in human history. It is this same endless thirst for change and invention that resulted into many discoveries in ancient Egypt. It is both surprising and interesting to see that many tools that have become a part of our everyday lives in the modern world dates back to the ancient civilization of Egypt. Some complex tools that we use now began as simple tools. These discoveries may not be that extravagant for the world today, but it was certainly a big breakthrough in the past.