Print Friendly, PDF & Email
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. With all that education, 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 to figure out distances without measuring. (That was thousands of years before Pythagoras was born.)

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

The Nile flood was very important to Egyptian farming. So Egyptian scientists also worked out good ways to measure how high the flood waters rose 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?


Ancient Egyptian science: a shaduf moves water up to an irrigation canal

Egyptian irrigation

Scientists in ancient Egypt also worked out good ways to move water from the Nile. They brought water to outlying farms in the desert. They used 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

Egyptian woman making beer (2000s BC)

Ancient Egyptian science: an Egyptian woman making beer (2000s BC)

Egyptian scientists may also have been first to figure out how to make wheat and barley into beer and yeast-rising bread. By the time of the Ptolemies, 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

Egyptian trade and money

Ancient Egyptian science: glass beads

The first glass may also come from Egypt. People had been using rare seashells as a kind of money. Then (when there weren’t enough seashells), they started to use stone beads.

History of money

Glass beads allowed the Egyptians to make beads faster and more cheaply than stone or shells. The glass beads added to the supply of money, so the economy could grow.

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 home