5 Surprising Things We Inherited from Ancient Egypt

When most people ponder the inventions of the ancient Egyptians, they think of architectural wonders like the pyramids or advances in writing, such as paper and hieroglyphics. However, this ancient civilization was ahead of its time in a number of different ways that continue to benefit us today. The early Egyptian culture gave birth to a number of important inventions. Some of them might just surprise you. 


While most sources credit the ancient Greeks for inventing the handshake, pictorial evidence suggests that the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians used this gesture first. A bas-relief sculpture dated around 900 BC depicts Assyrian King Shalmaneser III apparently shaking hands with a Babylonian ruler. Some scholars conjecture that the ancient Egyptians shared in this custom. As the elder culture, the ancient Egyptians are likely to be responsible for the origin of the gesture. One theory asserts that visiting dignitaries would shake hands to show that they had no weapons and had peaceful intentions for the meeting. 


The earliest known images of crutches date back to the New Kingdom, circa 1500 BC. Ancient Egyptian bas-relief carvings from the time show T-shaped instruments that were presumably used to facilitate walking. Modern crutches were not patented until 1917 when Emile Schlick introduced a walking stick with upper arm support to the commercial market. 

Dental Hygiene 

As early as 5000 BC, Egyptians mixed herbs and minerals to use for toothpaste. In the 1930s, much to the shock of the medical community, scholars found a recipe for toothpaste recorded on papyrus which was dated from the 4th century BC. The mixture combined rock salt, dried iris flower, peppercorns, and mint. The scribe, who originally recorded the recipe in hieroglyphics, labeled the recipe as a “powder for white and perfect teeth.” Not being fans of the dreaded halitosis, the ancient Egyptians also mixed potent herbs with honey to produce sweet-smelling breath mints. 


In 2000, an archaeologist found an Egyptian mummy who had been fitted with a prosthetic toe after an apparent amputation.  Dated from circa 1500 BC during the reign of Amenhotep II, this specimen remains the earliest known prosthetic limb. We have found many other examples of prosthetic limbs on Egyptian mummies from later dates. Scholars debate whether the prosthetics had a practical use in the lives of the living Egyptian dignitaries.  Some suggest that ancient Egyptian prosthetics were positioned posthumously so that the deceased could be intact in the underworld. 


Another innovation of the ancient Egyptians, the earliest clocks were stone sundials, also called shadow clocks. The most ancient sundial discovered by modern civilization dates back to the New Kingdom period, although records lead scholars to believe that the sundial was first used around 3500 BC. The ancient Egyptians also fashioned timepieces that used bowls that would fill with water, much like hourglasses. 


As evidenced, ancient Egyptians innovated many of the common items that modern civilization uses today. The extent of the contribution of the ancient Egyptian world still remains to be seen as scientists find more about this highly advanced early culture. 


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