|Science and Technology in Ancient Egypt
Historical Deception: The Untold Story of Ancient Egypt – 2nd Ed.
by Moustafa Gadalla
It is the common belief of the modern world that our society is the most advanced that ever existed, and that all science prior to our era was undeveloped.
Despite the prejudices against ancient Egypt by the modern religions and the derision of the western rationalists, there has never been a match for the Egyptian doctrine in which science, theology, philosophy and art were fused into a grand synthesis.
The entire Egyptian doctrine was based on how the spiritual is generated and how it interacts with the physical aspect. In our modern times, we tend to separate the study of the physical aspects (we call it science) from the study of the spiritual aspects (we call it religion). For the Egyptian, the physical and the spiritual are intertwined and interrelated.
It is this fusion that left the world with unmatched accomplishments. Our modern science remains piecemeal and unable to handle the non-quantifying factors of life such as the spiritual, emotional and psychological aspects. As our modern science solves some problems, they are causing problems on other fronts. Nobody can deny that social and family matters are getting worse and worse.
Science in ancient Egypt intertwines with other aspects of life and cannot be easily carved out as a separate subject. Our attempt here is to try to reach the minds of our modern societies, and in carving the subject of science and technology out of the whole synthesis we shall lose many aspects of the subject. I apologize to the ancient Egyptians.
Egyptian writings always showed an enthusiastic reverence for learning. A father tells his son:
“Give thy heart to learning and love her like a mother for there is nothing that is so precious as learning.”
And about the importance of learning to the individual, he tells him:
“Behold there is no profession which is not governed. It is only the learned man who rules himself.”
Science, as defined in Webster’s dictionary, is:
“Systemized knowledge derived from observation carried on in order to determine the nature of what is being studied.”
Technology is defined as:
“Technical method of achieving practical purposes.”
The ancient Egyptians have met these definitions and a lot more.
A few decades ago, those who suggested that astronomy had reached an advanced state, long before the invention of the telescope, were generally ridiculed or ignored. But in the past few decades, the evidence has mounted overwhelmingly.
Astronomers studying Egypt have long argued that Egyptian astronomy was highly advanced, that the precession of the equinoxes was known to them, as was the heliocentric system, and many other phenomena supposedly only recently discovered.
When Kepler discovered his planetary laws he boasted in print, that he had re-discovered the lost laws of Egypt.
Egyptian mythology, which is much older than the dynastic Egyptian history, is fully based on cosmology and cosmogony. As such, astronomy was known to them, long before the recorded history of dynastic Egypt.
Astronomy in ancient Egypt was closely related to their agricultural civilization. Observations, measurements and calculations were made for the rising Nile: seasons, and the period of the annual return of the inundation. Astronomical knowledge was the only way to organize their agricultural activities.
A systematic kind of astronomical observation began in very early times. The most ancient astronomical texts, presently known, are found on the lids of wooden coffins dating from the 9th Dynasty (c. 2150 BCE). These texts are called ‘diagonal calendars’ or ‘diagonal star clocks’. They give the names of the decans (stars which rose at ten-day intervals at the same time as the sun), of which there were 36. More elaborate star charts were found in the New Kingdom on the ceiling of the tomb of Senenmut, Queen Hatshepsut’s architect, and on the ceiling at the temple of Abydos. In the tombs of Ramses IV, VII, and IX, inscriptions which relate to the first and the 16th day of each month, give the position occupied by a star at each of the 12 hours of the night in relation to a seated figure: ‘over the left ear’, ‘over the right ear’, etc.
Numerous monuments can be found throughout ancient Egypt attesting to their full awareness and knowledge of cosmology and astronomy.
The numerous monuments of ancient Egypt, with their perfect construction, attest to their superior knowledge, among other things, of mathematics and geometry.
No documents were ever recovered that show the design and calculations of any of their monuments.
The famed Egyptologist, Sir J. Gardiner Wilkinson in his book, The Ancient Egyptians, Their Life and Customs, wrote:
“... Herodotus, and others, ascribe the origin of geometry to the Egyptians; but the period when it commenced is uncertain. Anticlides pretends that Moaris was the first to lay down the elements of that science, which he says was perfected by Pythagoras; but the latter observation is merely the result of the vanity of the Greeks, which claimed for their countrymen (as in the case of Thales, and other instances) the credit of enlightening a people on the very subjects which they had visited Egypt for the purpose of studying.”
R. W. Sloley, in The Legacy Of Egypt, writes:
“The Egyptians developed a practical system of numeration and could carry out arithmetical calculations (involving the manipulation of complicated fractional expressions) with ease and accuracy.... He could solve problems involving two unknown quantities and had elementary notions of arithmetical progression using fractions, as well as of geometrical progression. He was familiar with the elementary properties of rectangles, circles and pyramids. Thus he could deal successfully with mathematical problems encountered in his daily life.”
The study of mathematics began long before the found mathematical papyri were written. These found papyri do not set mathematical rules, but they list problems and their solutions. The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus begins with a long table of the division of 2, by odd numbers from 3 to 101, and continues with 84 problems of an arithmetical kind which include mensuration, the calculation of areas, and the measurement of angles of slopes. The purpose of writing this papyrus is not known.
The Egyptians adopted a decimal notation since the earliest times and employed units as high as 1,000,000. Addition and subtraction were used by them. Multiplication, except for the most simple cases in which a number had either to be doubled or to be multiplied by ten, involved a process of doubling and adding, which is, by the way, how the computer process works. Our multiplication tables rely totally on memorization and nothing more and can by no means be considered a human achievement. The computer process is easier, more accurate and faster, as we all know.
Geometry, to a modern rationalist, is describing the properties of plane, curved or solid figures. In short, it is merely descriptive.
Geometry for the ancients was the means by which humanity could understand the mysteries of the divine order. Geometry was therefore a sacred science to the Egyptians and to the Greeks such as Plato.
Ancient Egyptians were aware of the functions of diagonals. Even though we consider diagonals to be transcendental numbers, they are not. Only that which can be enumerated is a number. The diagonals symbolize the functions, of creation itself.
The ancient Egyptians knew the transcendental numbers Pi and Phi, by their consistent use of measures, derived from the diagonal of certain squares or rectangles.
Their knowledge and use of the transcendental number Pi is evident in the design of many monuments. A good example can be found at the Great Pyramid of Giza, where its apex represents the pole and the perimeter represents the equator. This is the reason that the ratio of the perimeter to the height is equal to (2 x Pi).
The mathematical proportion known as the golden section, expressed mathematically as (1+ square root of 5)/2, was known and used by Egyptians thousands of years before the Greeks. This simply expressed but mysterious proportion (known to us, now as the transcendental number ‘Phi’) has fascinated architects, artists, philosophers, and scientists of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Neoplatonic era and of the Renaissance era, especially Leonardo. It continues to fascinate our minds, to the present time.
The proportions of the Great Pyramid expressed the transcendental number (Phi) with considerable precision.
The floor plan of the so-called “King’s Room” is a 2 x 1 rectangle, 34' 4" x 17' 2" (10.5 x 5.2m; 20 x 10 Egyptian cubits). The height of the King’s Chamber is 19' 2" (5.8m). This measure is arrived at by taking one half the length of the diagonal of the floor. This seemingly simple operation is nevertheless mathematically significant. The diagonal of the 2 x 1 rectangle is the square root of five. The modern formula for the proportion called the golden section or Phi is (1 + square root of 5)/2.
The diagonal of the 2:1 rectangle is very significant. In a religious sense, when the one became two, the result (diagonal) is the universe. The diagonal symbolizes the functions of creation itself.
In a country that relies on agriculture, geodesy (the science of earth measurement) was developed, long before the time of Mena(Menes). Measurement of the superficial area as well as the various elevations of the country were very important, because this information were needed in order to distribute the water to the farmlands, Geodesic data were also needed in the design, construction and operation of canals and dikes.
The pavilion of Senusert(Sesostris) I (1971-1926 BCE), at Karnak Temple, incorporates geodesic knowledge in its design, and it also provides a wealth of geodesic information. Its platform acts as a measuring rod set in several simultaneous measurements, like our rulers calibrated in both meters and feet and various other sub-units. It has a list of all the provinces of Egypt with their respective land surface areas, proving that actual surveys were made. Major towns are listed, the total length of Egypt is given, and the normal height of the Nile flood noted at three principal points along the length of the river. Much more other useful information is also provided.
The Big Bang theory, which was described in the ancient Egyptian myths, is now recognized by almost all scientists.
It is ironic that our modern findings lead us to respect and appreciate the ancient Egyptian traditions. Scholars can now find a coherent and consistent system behind the ancient Egyptian cosmology and cosmogony.
New generations of Egyptologists are now able to communicate the ancient Egyptian myths in modern terms. The modern frontier sciences of high energy physics and molecular biology and genetics can now be related to the ancient Egyptian creation myths.
The more we know, the more we appreciate their knowledge.
The power of the form of an object cannot yet be defined and quantified by our modern science. The mysterious impact of the pyramid on us, and the well documented pyramid power, signify unknown physical phenomena, yet to be discovered by modern science.
Optics was a developed science in ancient Egypt. We cannot fully perceive the artistic details of the feathers of birds and other details, as depicted on the walls of temples and tombs, without a magnifying glass.
The art of glass making reached a very high level by the ancient Egyptians. (More about it later this chapter and in the next chapter.)
Their higher knowledge of sound waves and frequencies and their powers, is evidenced in the delivery of magical phrases, for various purposes.
The Egyptians had superior knowledge of mechanics. This is evident in the moving and transporting of immense weights, to considerable heights and manipulating them into position with the utmost precision.
They understood and utilized techniques of mechanical balance unknown to us. What would be magic to us was a method to them. They used simple tools but with a highly sophisticated understanding of the principles involved.
No insight was given into the secrets of their mechanical knowledge. Our simplistic explanation of their construction techniques, reflects our ignorance.
It is amazing that Pliny attributed the invention of the potter’s wheel to Coroebus the Athenian. A long time before the recorded history of dynastic Egypt, the neter Khnum’s divine function was to fashion men on the potter’s wheel. Khnum working at the wheel is shown in many places all over ancient Egypt.
Additionally, workmen making pottery on the wheel, as shown in the illustration, is depicted throughout ancient Egyptian tombs.
Egyptians were knowledgeable of the pulley as evident by the one found, and now displayed in the Leiden Museum. This pulley was probably intended for drawing water from a well, canal or the Nile.
The Egyptians possessed considerable knowledge of chemistry and the use of metallic oxides. This is evident from the nature of the colors applied to their glass and porcelain. They were acquainted with the influence of acids upon color. In the process of dyeing or staining cloth, they were able to bring about certain changes in the hues, by the same means adopted in modern times.
The beautiful colors they obtained from copper, and the composition of various metals, attest to their knowledge in this subject.
Metallurgy is the science and technology of metals. Properties of the different materials were known to them, as evidenced by their ability to use the right metallic tool to work on other bodies or surfaces.
Their knowledge of metal ductibility is evident in their ability to manufacture wires. Silver wires were found in the tomb of Twthomosis III, and gold wires were found, attached to rings bearing the name of Osirtasen I, who lived 600 years before Twthomosis III.
Gold thread and wire were the result of wire-drawing, and there is no instance of them being flattened.
Wire-drawing was first attempted, by them, with the most ductile metals such as gold and silver before brass and iron.
The Egyptians perfected the art of making the thread from metals. It was sufficiently fine for weaving into cloth, and for ornamentation; as evident in some of Amasis delicate linen, on which numerous figures of animals were worked in gold threads, which required a great degree of fineness.
Cutting glass and hard stone is a very precise work, which requires extensive knowledge of the properties of the material of the cutter, and the material to be cut or carved.
Pliny reported that Egyptians engraved emeralds and other hard stones. Although we do not know the precise method adopted by the Egyptians for cutting glass and hard stones, we may reasonably conclude that they were acquainted with the diamond, and adopted it for engraving purposes.
Emery powder and the lapidary’s wheel were also used in Egypt; and there is little doubt that the Israelites learned the art of cutting and engraving stones in Egypt.
The art of cutting glass was known, to the ancient Egyptians, at the most remote periods as proven from the hieroglyphics and other inscriptions, being frequently engraved upon vases and beads. The specimens of ancient glass, cut, engraved, and ground, which were discovered in Egypt, suffice to prove the art was practiced there long before its supposed re-invention in the 17th century when Gaspar Lehmann, at Prague, obtained the patent from the Emperor Rodolph II.
Technology is by definition the technical method of achieving practical purposes. Most historians and scholars agree on the pragmatic and practical characteristics of the ancient Egyptian. Here are just glances, of some technological achievements.
The Yale Lock: In 1848, Linus Yale supposedly invented the compact cylinder pin-tumbler lock and his name became a generic term for this kind of lock. Yale’s invention was a reinvention of the ancient Egyptian’s pin-tumbler mechanism, commonly employed in the locks of their houses, thousands of years ago.
The Egyptians invented the bellow, one of which is represented in the tomb of Twthomosis III. It consisted of a leather bag; secured and fitted into a frame, from which a long pipe extended for carrying the wind to the fire. Bellows were worked by the feet. From the painting, it was observed that when the man left the bellows unattended, they did not deflate; and, this would imply a knowledge of the valve.
The siphons were also invented in Egypt, at least during the reign of Amunoph II (c. 1500 BCE).
In a tomb at Ta-Apet(Thebes), bearing the name of Amunoph, one observes a priest pouring a liquid into some vases, and another priest drawing it off, by applying the siphon to his mouth, and then to a large vase. Similar scenes are shown again in the paintings in Ramses III’s tomb.
Heron of Alexandria, a notable early writer, mentioned the Egyptian siphons. He lived under Ptolemy Euergetes II. Heron reported that siphons were employed as hydraulic machines on a grand scale, for draining lands, or conveying water over a hill from one valley to another.
They had also invented syringes, used for injecting liquids into the head and body of mummies, during the embalming process. There is also a similar instrument which is often represented in the sculptures of early times, and which has the appearance of a portable pump.
Dikes were followed by, or accompanied by, the invention of sluices, and all their operating mechanisms. Sluices were essential in the regulation of the supply of water, to the fields. Much scientific skill was required to operate the sluice so as to release the prescribed quantity of water to the designated land.
They had to make precisee observations of the increase of the Nile elevation during the inundation season. Nilometers, for measuring the gradual rise and fall of the Nile, were constructed in various parts of Egypt, and water surface fluctuations were recorded and reported. The elevations at the Nilometers throughout Egypt were all tied to a single common datum. The mouths of the canals were closed until the river rose to a specific height, before opening the sluice to a determined height and duration.
The technical skill of the Egyptian woodworker is evident in their boat-building and chariot-making. Both objects consist of small pieces built to withstand many internal and external stresses and strains in their use. As such, they must have been knowledgeable of the design properties of different woods, which led to the manufacture of durable and stable moving parts of the joinery.
More than 4000 years ago, Egyptians had already invented and commonly used a form of pole to make chariots. This type of pole was first introduced into Europe in the early 1800s. Refer to Ahmed Osman’s book, Stranger in the Valley of the Kings, to dispel previous views that the Hyksos introduced chariots to Egypt.
Practically the only modern carpenter’s tool which the Ancient Egyptian did not possess was the plane, but he could do such fine work with the adze, that he did not need the plane. Many examples of their carpenter tools have been found in Egyptian tombs: squares, levels, chisels, drills, horn of oil, nails, mallets, and saws which differ very little from their modern counterparts.
Using glue in woodwork was a very early Egyptian invention. Several wooden boxes and coffins have been found, in which glue was employed to fasten the joints.
A scribe wrote of a woodcarver:
Each artist who works with the chisel
Tires himself more than he who hoes [a field]
The wood is his field, of metal are his tools.
In the night—is he free?
He works more than his arms are able,
In the night—he lights a light.
There are some interesting examples of Egyptian weaver’s looms and shuttles in the British Museum which are basically the same design as those used today, except that they were manually operated.
The Egyptians were always celebrated for their manufacture of linen and other cloths, and the produce of their looms was exported to, and eagerly purchased by, foreign nations.
The dye was unknown to Herodotus, for he made no mention of it. It was Pliny who noted the Egyptians’ use of the dye. He did not know of its true nature, nor the history of its production. He, however, correctly described the most characteristic of its properties, which was the emission of a beautiful purple vapor when exposed to heat.
The Egyptians were capable of dyeing their old clothes, to extend their use and beauty.
The Egyptians had carpets, which were a very early invention. Homer, who mentioned them, gave them the same name which they are still known by, Tapeta, hence tapis and tapestry.
The threads used for nets were remarkable for their fineness; and Pliny stated,
“some of them were so delicate that they would pass through a man’s ring, and a single person could carry a sufficient number of them to surround a whole [forest].”
Flax was used for making ropes, string, and various kinds of twine. The Egyptians excelled in rope making. Specimens exist of rope made from palm fiber, five inches thick. These ropes are as strong and well made as any manufactured today.
Paper making of papyrus has survived the ages (the true test). The preserved papyri in the less arid climate of Lower Egypt, still maintain their pliability; and as such they may be bent, and even twisted in any way, without breaking, or without being more injured than a piece of our common paper.
The secret art of making this parchment was never revealed. In all the records and drawings found, not a single word or drawing discloses the method of the papyrus making process.
The Egyptian material was exported to all the surrounding areas. Indeed, today the records found of the Greek and Roman Empires, were preserved on Egyptian made paper.
The Egyptian word was ‘Pa-pe-ra’. The Greeks called it ‘Papyrus’. One can easily see that the English word ‘paper’ came from the Egyptian ‘pa-pe-ra’.
Your dictionary will also confirm that the word ‘Bible’ is of an Egyptian origin. The ‘Bible’, or book, was derived from ‘byblos’, which is the Egyptian hieratic word for papyrus.
Ancient Egyptians were using glass, at least as early as the reign of the first Osirtasen, more than 4000 years ago; where the process of glass-blowing is represented in the paintings of his tomb, at Beni Hassan. Similar scenes are shown on later monuments throughout Egypt.
The tanning and preparation of leather was also a branch of art in which the Egyptians showed considerable skill.
The process of curing and dyeing the skins, as well as stretching and bending leather over a form, are frequently represented at Ta-Apet(Thebes). The semicircular knife, similar to that of our modern times, was commonly used by the ancient Egyptians.
Shoes, or low boots, were common in Egypt. Many of them have been found at Ta-Apet (Thebes).
Science & Technology in Ancient Egypt – Excerpt from Historical Deception: The Untold Story of Ancient Egypt
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