The Ancient Egyptian Civilization was one of the first of the Great Civilizations of the Mediterranean Sea basin. Due to the excellent location, which was the delta of the river Nile, the ancient Egyptians thrived as a culture, rich in agriculture and also life-facilitating inventions. Many of their technical solutions are still known to us and used by us today. Egyptian women ushered in the era of wearing ornate jewelry and rings, the men participated in boxing, fencing and wrestling challenges, and the Egyptian children played board games, and knew dolls and other modern toys. The Egyptians were also skillful scholars and constructors, way ahead of their times. Here is a list of 15 brilliant inventions, which we as a modern society owe to the ingenuity of ancient Egyptians.
1. Eye Makeup
Eye makeup may seem quite trivial when compared to fire, or the invention of the wheel but it still is one of the most long-standing inventions in all of human history. What is more important, the eye makeup has evolved throughout the centuries, but its basic form has never changed. The original idea of Egyptian makeup dates back to 4000 BC. Interestingly enough, the first makeup component invented was kohl, for which the ancient Egyptians used a mixture of soot with a mineral called galena. Today we don’t use soot anymore, but kohl is still pretty popular among women to accentuate eye features. In ancient Egypt, such beauty treatments were performed by both men and women of a high social position. It was believed that makeup gave the protection of Horus and Ra, ensuring prosperity and thwarting curses.
2. Written Language
Sure, pictorial language was used way back, starting from the cave paintings at Lascaux, France. But pictorial language making linguistic sense is yet another story. Of course, Egyptians were not the first one to write something down as such, that honorable title goes to the Mesopotamians, but they were the first ones to invent drawings, which functioned as a written record, on the similar basis as the Asian alphabets today. Meaning? One picture could be one word, but it also could be a syllable of a word, or a metaphor meaning something entirely different. This enabled Egyptians, to write also about abstract concepts and ideas, not only to count their cattle and communicate on a daily basis. Thanks to the Rosetta Stone, we were able to decipher the hieroglyphs used by Egyptians and now have an amazing understanding of their culture and achievements.
This life-saving invention came to be around 140 BC in China, but let us not forget that the clever Egyptians laid foundations for what would forever change the face of Earth. To this aim, they used a plant with stiff leaves, similar to reed, which grew in abundance in the marshy areas of the Nile delta. The plant was called papyrus. Its fibrous lives proved excellent for manufacturing very strong sheets, which could be cut or rolled up into scrolls, if lengthier. The invention of the papyrus paper changed everything. From then on paintings, religious texts, literary texts, and music were written onto the scrolls, and sometimes, stored away in clay vessels. This meant that many of them are still well preserved today, and the scholars worldwide are thrilled about it!
4. The Calendar
The Egyptian Calendar was more than just a time-measuring system. Oftentimes it meant a vital distinction between feasting and harvesting, between dry seasons and flood seasons. In fact, it was so closely tight up with Egyptian agriculture, that the calendars three main sections were: inundation, growing and harvest. Each of the calendar’s season had four months, and each month was divided into 30 days. Sounds familiar? Oh, and also the Egyptians added 5 days between the harvest and the inundation season, so that is a total of 365 days. The five days were the so-called epagomenal days, designed as religious holidays to honor the Egyptian gods.
Historic evidence suggests that those responsible for the invention of the plow were ancient Egyptians and Sumerians, which were among the first societies to employ the „new power tool”, around 4000 BC. The first plows weren’t perfect. They did not involve animal power yet, had to be carried on one’s back and, in addition, merely scratched the surface of the earth, which earned them the name „scratch plows”. Many Egyptian wall paintings depict four men pulling a plow through a field, which obviously was the domain of slaves and peasants, as no Egyptian noble would be caught dead doing this. Anyway, the plow evolved in 2000 BC, when some bright mind decided to hook their plow to an ox. The animal proved perfect for the chore, so perfect that the tool held its position all the way to Middle Ages in Europe! Now, that truly is a brilliant invention.
6. Breath Mints
We all should definitely thank the ancient Egyptians for inventing the way to refresh our mouths and breaths, when our lunch has been spiced with garlic and there are still some hours will we get back home and brush our teeth. Everyone’s mouth sometimes emits an unpleasant aroma and that apparently has not changed throughout centuries. We owe it to all the sugary snacks and fizzy drinks, that our teeth are in a poor state, whereas the ancient Egyptians owed it to the sand and grit found in their pastries and bread, which came from the flour grinding devices. Anyway, the smart people of Egypt started having their pulp of the tooth exposed, sometimes at a very young age (depending on how much bread you ate). The remedy was mixing frankincense, myrrh and cinnamon boiled with honey and making pellets out of the mixture. Breath mints, as we know them today.
The Egyptians, as any civilized and well developed country, loved their games and pastimes. They are the inventors of not only fencing and board games, but also of a very popular team sport, which is still enjoyed by us today and does not require any experience to start. Although, some practice is always recommended not to be the ‘weakest link’ in your team. That’s right. We are talking about bowling, the simple but very entertaining sport best enjoyed with a couple of friends on a Saturday evening. Archeologists have recently uncovered a room with a set of lanes as well as an extensive collection of bowling balls, in a settlement called Narmoutheos. This proves that Egyptians knew and enjoyed bowling. There is one exception, though. There were no pins at the end of the valley. Instead, the Egyptian bowlers aimed at a hole in the middle of the lane. And part of the game was also to knock their opponents’ ball off the track.
8. Haircuts and Shaves
The Egyptians were not very fond of hair anywhere. Maybe it was due to the extreme weather conditions in the delta of the Nile river, and maybe it was due to the society introducing new, more demanding beauty standards, but historic sources leave no doubt. Most of the prominent citizens of Egypt shaved their hair, mustache and beard completely off and sometimes replaced some elements with a natural-looking wig. But, we will get back to that. What is important is that the people of Egypt practically invented the barber salons and the profession in itself. They also invented scissors, which were two separate copper blades, held in two hands. The scissors as we know them today came along in Renaissance.
9. Wigs and fake beards
As it was mentioned before, the Egyptians liked to shave themselves bold, but since it did not seem very appealing, they invented wigs to better accentuate their facial features. They used either shorn hair or sheep’s wool to produce massive amounts of wigs, varying in shapes and sizes. The hair wigs were especially differentiated and the anthropologists today estimate that even 99% of all omen’s hairstyles shown in the papyrus paintings could have been wigs. When it comes to fake beards, they were also pretty unisex, with both Egyptian kings and Egyptian queens wearing them. Ordinary male citizens were allowed to wear beards up to 2 inches length, whereas the Pharaohs wore long beards trimmed square at the tip.
10. Door Locks
The earliest door lock ever found dates back to about 4000 BC. This particular example was a pin-tumbler lock, with a hollow bolt in the door connected to pins subject to manipulation by the means of a key. When you put the right key in, the pins were pushed upwards and they allowed the door to open. But, the first, ancient locks were pretty big. The biggest ones could reach up to 2 feet, or 60 centimeters in length. They made up for it with their functionality, though, as they were much more foolproof than the Roman locks, designed with a spring instead of a bolt. So, an Egyptian thief could rob a Roman place in no time!
The ancient Egyptians sure did have a lot of problems with their teeth, and unfortunately, though medicine was slowly developing, the dentistry had not yet been invented, leaving the poor Egyptians to many horrible teeth and gum diseases. But, someone clever invented at least half a remedy. Apparently, even with the gritty bread and everything, your teeth would remain healthier if you washed them more often. Therefore, the Egyptians invented the first toothpaste in the world. The ingredients of the earliest recipes found included ingredients included the powder of ox hooves, ashes, burnt eggshells and pumice. Not quite what you would expect today, but apparently it still got the job done, and Egyptian teeth were cleaner and healthier from then on.
12. Toothpicks and toothbrushes
But, it’s not only the toothpaste that got invented to protect the fragile Egyptian nail-enamel and gums. No dental hygiene routine would be complete without a means to apply the toothpaste and to clean one’s teeth hastily after a meal. This is why the smart Egyptian also thought of inventing toothpicks and toothbrushes. The first ones were just plain sticks, devised to clean the food remains from between the teeth. And not much has changed since. The second ones were made from frayed ends of wooden twigs. They were usually made from soft varieties of wood, not to irritate the gums too much. Probably, still not as soft as we know them today.
Ancient Egyptians liked to be organized. It was not enough for them to plan their daily activities within days, but they also wanted to fit their arrangements perfectly within the time of day. This is why they were probably the first community to divide days into equal parts, and to keep track of those parts using the first timekeeping devices. Some of the earliest were: sundials, shadow clocks, merkhets and obelisks. The basic rule in timekeeping was following the position of the sun and the passing of the night, usually determined by the position of the stars. The water clocks measured time by means of water flowing through a small hole and gradually filling the whole bowl, which was the body of the clock. Water clocks were generally deemed more accurate.
14. Irrigation systems
Las Vegas, Nevada couldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the ancient Egyptians. There were the first society to manage water supplies on such tremendous scale. It all started with the observation of the cycles of the Nile river. The people of Egypt notices that the river sometimes flooded due to rainfall, whereas other times its tide was low, and no rainfall occurred at all. They soon started retaining the flood water and building a system of pipes and dams to stimulate the water flow onto their fields, even during the low-tide season. This way the agriculture flourished and the city’s water supplies virtually never ran out! The archeological findings suggest that irrigation systems were used in ancient Egypt from the times of the twelfth dynasty onwards, using the lake Fayum, as a reservoir retaining the water supplies.
Glass was rediscovered many times throughout history. But the original inventors of the process of molding silica into the well-known, decorative material seem to be the Egyptians. The archeologists claim that the Egyptian society was able to craft different color glass as early as 1500 BC, in the period off the New Kingdom. Moreover, the glass items were highly prized and were one of the propelling forces of trade. Especially valuable were glass beads, made by winding molten glass round metal bars. They were used to make jewelry, and said to contain magical powers. But, the ancient Egyptians also crafted a wide range of other glass items, like jars, bottles and glass threads.