Ancient Egyptian Technology and Inventions

From inventing our modern calendar, to inventing writing, to creating surgical instruments similar to those used today, the ancient Egyptians were truly masters of invention.
Marcia Wendorf

In antiquity, ancient civilizations arose around rivers: the Nile River in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, the Indus River in India and the Yellow River in China.

While later civilizations, such as the Greeks, could learn from them, these ancient civilizations had to invent everything for themselves.


The ancient Egyptians would come to invent mathematics, geometry, surveying, metallurgy, astronomy, accounting, writing, paper, medicine, the ramp, the lever, the plow, and mills for grinding grain.

Metal Making 

Egyptian bronze statues
Egyptian bronze statues Source: Andrew Bossi/Wikimedia Commons

Around 3000 BC, the Egyptians discovered that by mixing a small amount of tin ore in with copper ore, they could make bronze.

Bronze is harder and more durable than other metals of that time, and this archeological period became known as the Bronze Age. Bronze tools, weapons, armor, building materials, and decorative items have been found.


Egyptian hieroglyphics
Egyptian hieroglyphics Source: Sherif217/Wikimedia Commons

The ancient Egyptians were among the first groups of people to write and to keep records. The earliest form of Egyptian writing was hieroglyphics, which combined logographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements, and had a total of some 1,000 distinct characters.


Later, hieratic and demotic Egyptian scripts were derived from hieroglyphics, as were the Greek and Aramaic scripts. This makes Egyptian hieroglyphics the ancestor of most scripts in use today.


The ancient Egyptians turned the pith of the Cyperus papyrus plant, which is found throughout the Mediterranean region, into sheets which could be rolled into scrolls.


The earliest evidence of papyrus was unearthed in 2012 at Wadi al-Jarf, an ancient Egyptian harbor located on the Red Sea coast, and dates to 2560 – 2550 BC. The papyrus rolls found there describe the last years of the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Crocodile mummy
Crocodile mummy Source: Alensha/Wikimedia Commons

The only known ancient Egyptian library to survive to this day is the Tebtunis Temple Library, which is housed at the University of California, Berkeley, and contains the famous crocodile mummy texts.

These forty-five private documents date from the first half of the 1st century BC and were found in five crocodile mummies that had been buried next to each other.


Egyptian ink
Egyptian ink Source: Captmondo/British Museum/Wikimedia Commons

Having papyrus to write on would have been of no use without the invention of ink. The ancient Egyptians mixed vegetable gum, soot and bee's wax to make a black ink. Eventually, they replaced the soot with other materials, such as red ochre, to create various colors of ink.

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The Ox-drawn plow and the Sickle 

The first ox-drawn plows appeared in Egypt as early as 2500 B.C. They were made of bronze, which easily scored the earth into furrows. Workers with hoes then broke up the clumps of soil and sowed the rows with seed. Along the fertile banks of the Nile River, the ancient Egyptians grew wheat and various vegetables.

Egyptian sickle
Egyptian sickle Source: The Met/Wikimedia Commons

The sickle with its curved blade was used for cutting and harvesting grains, such as wheat and barley.

Canals and Irrigation Channels 

The Egyptians pioneered the use of canals and irrigation channels to direct water from the Nile River to farm fields that were distant from the river. They built gates into the canals so that they could control the flow of water, and they built reservoirs to hold water supplies in case of drought.

The ancient Egyptians used water wheels, which worked an invention of theirs called a shadoof. It was comprised of a long pole with a bucket on one end and a weight on the other.

The buckets were dropped into the Nile, filled with water, and raised using water wheels. Then, oxen swung the pole so that the water could be emptied into canals that were used to irrigate the crops.

The Calendar 

The Egyptians devised their highly accurate solar calendar by recording the yearly reappearance of the star Sirius (the Dog Star) in the eastern sky. When Sirius rose, it coincided with the yearly flooding of the Nile River.

The Egyptian calendar contained 365 days, divided into 12 months. Each month had 30 days, and there were an additional five festival days at the end of each year.

However, earth's solar year is actually 365.25 days long, which today we account for with Leap Year. Gradually, the Egyptian calendar became incorrect, but this problem was solved by Ptolemy III whose Ptolemaic Calendar added one day to the 365 days every four years.


Water clock
Water clock Source: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons

The Egyptians used their famous obelisks as sundials, by observing how shadows cast by the obelisk moved around them during the course of the day. From this, the ancient Egyptians were able to determine the longest and shortest days of the year.

An inscription dating to the 16th century BC and found in the tomb of a court official named Amenemhet, shows a water clock. This clock was made from a stone vessel which had a tiny hole in its bottom.

Water dripped through this hole at a constant rate, and the passage of hours could be determined from marks placed on a vessel collecting the water. Priests at the Temple of Karnak used a water clock at night to determine the time to perform various religious rites.

The corbeled Arch 

Corbeled arch
True arch and corbeled arch Source: Wikimedia Commons

A corbeled arch is a construction method that uses corbeling to span a space or a void in a structure. Corbelling involves offsetting successive rows of stone or brick so that they project towards the archway's center, eventually meeting at the apex of the archway.

Corbeled arches weren't as efficient as "true" arches, which better support all of a structure's tensile stresses by compression.

Glass Making 

Egyptian glass
Egyptian glass Source: Wikimedia Commons

By circa 1500 BC, Egyptian artisans were making multi-colored glass ingots and vessels. Glass makers shaped the body of a vessel around the core of a ceramic-like material by winding hot colored glass filaments around the core.

They then added handles and a rim, let the vessel cool, and removed the core. Most early core-formed vessels were small flasks for holding perfumed oil, so in essence, they were the world's first perfume bottles.


When you look at pictures of the opening of King Tutankhamun's tomb by Howard Carter in 1923, you see the ancient king was buried with lots of furniture. The ancient Egyptians built beds, tables, and stools.

While early forms of tables were used to store items above the ground, later designs were used for eating off of and to play games. The game Senet, one of the oldest known board games, was mentioned in an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph dating from 3100 BC.

Surgical Instruments 

Edwin Smith papyrus
Edwin Smith papyrus Source: Jeff Dahl/Wikimedia Commons

The Edwin Smith Papyrus, dating to 1600 BC, is the oldest known surgical treatise. It describes 48 surgical cases of injuries, fractures, wounds, dislocations, and tumors, and details the type of the injury, examination of the patient, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. Injuries were to the head, neck, shoulders, breast, and chest.

The papyrus includes a list of the instruments used during those surgeries, instructions for the suturing wounds, and descriptions of using swabs, bandages, adhesive plasters, and cauterizing.

Written in black ink, with explanations written in red ink, the papyrus even contains a section on gynecology and one on cosmetics, along with five prescriptions. The Cairo Museum contains a collection of surgical instruments, including scalpels, scissors, copper needles, forceps, spoons, lancets, hooks, probes, and pincers.


The ancient Egyptians invented toothpaste, with one recipe containing powdered of ox hooves, ashes, burnt eggshells, and pumice. Another, probably better-tasting recipe, contained rock salt, mint, dried iris flower and grains of pepper.

This latter recipe came along with an "advertisement" that promised a "powder for white and perfect teeth." This could have come out of any 21st Century advertisement.