Boats, Bowling and Moldy Bread: Curious Achievements Ancient Egypt Shared With the World
Ancient Egypt is one on the oldest civilizations in the world and it was also home to many of the ancient world’s greatest achievements. Without their creativity and innovative approach to the world, academics, technology, transport, art, medicine, and even leisure activities wouldn’t be the same today.
Egypt has produced numerous major developments in the areas of knowledge, ingenuity, economy, and culture throughout its long history. It could be called the birthplace of science, and new ways of thinking and problem-solving originated there. Under Greek rule, the famous Library at Alexandria was a magnet for scholars until its destruction. Egypt also hosted two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: The Lighthouse at Alexandria and the Great Pyramid of Giza. Of all the Ancient Wonders, the Great Pyramid is the only monument to survive in such a remarkable state. It also remains the largest man-made stone structure known to date.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria on the island of Pharos. (Emad Victor SHENOUDA)
The life-giving Nile, the longest river on Earth, runs through Egypt. Each year it flooded, depositing fresh and fertile soil along its banks. Peasant farmers, which comprised the majority of the ancient Egyptian population, worked the land, formed irrigation canals leading from the Nile, and raised various staple crops. The ancient Egyptians were most likely the first people to make bread, a food which became integrated into their daily diet.
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There is also a significant amount of evidence suggesting that the plow was first used in Egypt. Ancient Egyptian art displaying men with early versions of the implement being drawn by oxen are plentiful. The invention spread, and the powerful plow has assisted generations of tillers of earth around the world. This technology allowed farmers to “quickly” prepare their fields each year for a healthy crop to feed their families - and inevitably their countries. Although made somewhat obsolete in the shadow of the modern tractor, relatively simple plows are still used by many farmers.
Burial chamber of Sennedjem, Scene: Plowing farmer. (Public Domain)
The Water Vessel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, Egypt has the oldest evidence of boats. Some of their boats were small and constructed out of the papyrus reeds which grew near the Nile. However, some ancient Egyptian ships could be 300 feet (91.44 meters) long. Typically these had quadrilateral sails and at least a single level of rowers with oars. It was the profound breakthrough of the sail which allowed the ancient seafarers, such as the Egyptians and Phoenicians, to brave the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, which led to trade and, in turn, wealth.
An ancient Egyptian boat. (Public Domain)
Calendar and Timepieces
Through their astronomical and geographical observations, the Egyptians developed a sophisticated 365-day calendar. This was hundreds of years before the creation of the Christian Gregorian calendar (which is somewhat more accurate and is still used in most parts of the world today.)
The ancients of Egypt are also known for making other timekeeping devices. Shadow clocks, the earliest known type of sundials, were first used in Egypt and Babylon, dating as far back as 1500 BC. One version of the hourglass, a clepsammia, was also said to have been invented in Alexandria circa 150 BC. A simple rendition of the water clock, the most accurate timepiece in ancient times, was found in Egypt and Babylon too.
Calendar in the temple of Kom Ombo. The calendar shows the hieroglyphics for the days of the fourth month of the harvest and the first day of the first month of the flood. (Ad Meskens/CC BY SA 3.0)
The Egyptian Empire was undoubtedly a land of skilled artisans dedicated to various trades. The ancient Egyptian glass cutters and goldsmiths were quite famous in their time. Written literature, especially poetry, abounded too. It has also been argued that the Egyptians were the first people to adopt recognizable artistic forms. Their arts included painting, carving, and sculpting with various materials. This ancient artwork continues to inspire present-day artists.
Wood Gilded Statue of Lady Tiye, mother of Amenhotep III–Akhenaten, Egypt ca. 1390-1352 BC. Amarna Period. (Public Domain)
Games and Toys
The Egyptians certainly knew how to have fun and entertain themselves. One of the ways they did this was through the invention of bowling; they were playing a game similar to tenpins as early as 5000 BC. There is some information which suggests that other pastimes such as billiards, tennis, and card games had their beginnings in Egypt as well. Some of the earliest spinning tops have been excavated at ancient Egyptian sites and lucky children also had dolls and puppets to play with.
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Toy cat Egypt New Kingdom Thebes. (Mary Harrsch/CC BY NC SA 2.0)
Machines and Medicine
The Egyptians had a basic means of transportation which resembled today's pedaling bicycle. They also had horse-drawn chariots which were used in warfare. Apart from this, they invented a few of the most well-known simple machines. Among them were the ramp and the lever. These devices aided the ancient builders in forming some of their grandest architectural feats. The fundamental concepts of these two simple machines continue to be employed in modern construction equipment.
An ancient Egyptian chariot. (Public Domain)
The Egyptians were also interested in health, and they discovered beneficial treatments for certain ailments in very interesting ways. For example, ancient Egyptian doctors put moldy bread on gashes and cuts, keeping the wounds clean and allowing them to heal. This worked because bread mold usually produces penicillin, which destroys bacteria. They also took poppy seeds, which contain morphine and codeine, as extreme painkillers. All three of these - penicillin, morphine, and codeine - are still widely applied in the field of medicine to this day.
As you can plainly see, ancient Egypt was a fairly advanced and most assuredly a powerful civilization for its time. Without these notable developments (and others) from Egypt, our modern world and all its history would be extremely different and lacking.
Top Image: Part of an ancient Egyptian statue. Source: CC BY SA 3.0
By John Tuttle
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