At the University of Copenhagen in Denmark there is a unique collection of Ancient Egyptian papyrus manuscripts.
A large part of the collection has not yet been translated and still unpublished. There are texts about medicine, botany, astronomy, astrology, and other sciences practiced in Ancient Egypt.
When you hear about the history of science, the focus is often on the Greek and Romans, but Egyptians goes much further back, in fact one of these medical texts was written 3,500 years ago when there was no written material on the European continent.
One side of the manuscript describes unusual treatments for eye diseases and the other side describes the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of a pregnancy test.
If modern tests to verify the state of pregnancy allow a woman to know her condition thanks to the chemical reaction of urine, which confirms or denies the presence of a particular hormone, the chorionic gonadotropin, present only in pregnant women, 3,600 years ago, in Ancient Egypt, women did something similar.
The text says that a pregnant woman should pee into a bag of barley and a bag of wheat, and then awaited developments!
Obviously it was not a test able to return the answer in a few minutes, but within a few days you could know the results of the experiment.
Depending on which bag sprouts first reveals the sex of her child. And if neither of the bags sprout then she wasn’t pregnant.
The author of the latest study is Kim Ryholt, world famous Egyptologist and head of the Carlsberg papyrus collection at the University of Copenhagen.
But was the test effective?
It seems incredible to say, but according to the US National Institutes of Health, a 20th century study confirmed the hypotheses of ancient Egyptian women.
The test had an accuracy of 70%! Obviously, however, he was not able to identify the sex of the unborn child.
The success of the test would be due to the high levels of estrogen, which could easily stimulate the growth of seeds.
Kim Ryholt’s research reveals that the ideas recorded in the Egyptian medical texts spread far beyond the African continent.
In an interview with CNN, she said that the texts are damaged, written in an ancient language readable by very few, and the terminology used is immensely complex. The Egyptian medical papyri are very rare, and this new translation could be a milestone for the other writings.
One of the project’s researchers, Sofie Schiødt, said: “Many of the ideas in the medical texts from Ancient Egypt appear again in later Greek and Roman texts. From here, they spread further to the medieval medical texts in the Middle East, and you can find traces all the way up to premodern medicine.”
This empirical pregnancy test influenced all subsequent medical science and the same pregnancy test used by Egyptians is referred to in a collection of German folklore from 1699.
In ancient times, urine was considered fundamental to understand the state of health of people, and in another text of 1553 we read that urine in pregnancy is clear, pale lemon color that pours on off-white, with a cloud on its surface.
Other empirical tests included mixing wine and urine, waiting for chemical reactions that indicate, or not, the pregnant state.
The Carlsberg papyrus collection includes some 1,400 manuscripts, most of which date back to 2,000 BC. to 1,000 d.C. The vast majority of these texts are still unknown.