Science in Ancient Egypt – Pyramids and papyrus

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Nilometer on Elephantine Island (Nile Valley Tours)

Ancient Egyptian science: Nilometer on Elephantine Island (Nile Valley Tours)

Scientists in ancient Egypt

Egypt was the richest part of Africa, so Egyptians could afford to educate a lot of people and there were a lot of scientists in ancient Egypt. These Egyptian scientists were especially interested in medicine, engineering, and irrigation.

Doctors and medicine
Schools in ancient Egypt
More Egypt articles

Pyramids and engineering

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) to figure out distances without measuring.

Pyramids in Egypt
Pythagorean theorem

What’s a Nilometer?

Egyptian sundial (Valley of the Kings, ca. 1300 BC)

Egyptian sundial (Valley of the Kings, ca. 1300 BC) on a small chip of limestone

Because the Nile flood was so important to Egyptian farming, Egyptian scientists also worked out good ways to measure how high the flood was going each year. They kept accurate records and good calendars. You can see here how the Egyptians wrote down numbers.

We call the device they used to measure the height of the Nile flood a Nilometer (ny-LA-muh-terr). The earliest portable sundials are also from ancient Egypt.

More about sundials and clocks
How did Egyptians write numbers?

Egyptian shaduf: wooden poles with ropes attached and buckets on the end of the ropes

Egyptian shaduf

Egyptian irrigation

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.

More about irrigation
Build your own shaduf

Egyptian doctors

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 could fix dislocated elbows and shoulders. And Egyptian doctors did a lot of early research into how the human body worked.

Egyptian food processing

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. That made roast chicken cheaper.

More about beer
More about eggs and incubators

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

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian science:

More about African science
And more about ancient Egypt
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By |2018-10-28T14:36:46+00:00June 19th, 2017|Africa, Egypt, Science|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Science in Ancient Egypt – Pyramids and papyrus. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 19, 2017. Web. November 16, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. 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, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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