Pyramids and papyrus - Science in Ancient Egypt
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Science in Ancient Egypt

Nilometer
Nilometer on Elephantine Island (Nile Valley Tours)

Egyptian scientists were generally most interested in observing nature and practical engineering, and they were very good at both of these things. The pyramids and temples, for example, show good knowledge of geometry and engineering. Egyptian engineers used the Pythagorean theorem, thousands of years before Pythagoras was born.

Because the Nile flood was so important to Egyptian farming, scientists also worked out good ways to measure how high the flood was going each year, and kept accurate records and good calendars. You can see here how the Egyptian wrote down numbers. The device they used to measure the height of the Nile flood is called a Nilometer (ny-LA-muh-terr).

Egyptian scientists also worked out good ways to move water from the Nile to outlying farms in the desert, using hand-powered irrigation pumps (shadufs) and canals.

Egyptian doctors were also considered the best in the ancient Mediterranean. They figured out how to set broken bones, pull out infected teeth, and massage aching muscles. They did a lot of early research into how the human body worked.

It may also have been Egyptian scientists who first figured out how to make wheat and barley into beer and yeast-rising bread. By the time of the Ptolemies, Egyptian scientists worked out ways to hatch goose and chicken eggs in giant factory incubators to make roast chicken cheaper.

Learn by doing: build an Egyptian shaduf
More about Egyptian medicine

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian science:

Science in Ancient Egypt, by Geraldine Woods (1998). Easy reading.

Technology in the Time of Ancient Egypt, by Judith Crosher (1998). Also for kids. Includes some activities for kids to try at home or at school.

More about African science
More about ancient Egypt
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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