The contraceptive methods in ancient Egypt

“In medicine, the Egyptians were leaving the rest of the world behind” Homer, Greek savant, 8th century BC.

Ancient Egyptian women; Illustration by Sandro Perovic
Ancient Egyptian women; Illustration by Sandro Perovic

We are here relaying an article from the French newspaper Nouvel Observateur:

Did you know that ancient Egyptians knew almost all the modern contraceptive methods? And that they also conceived the first known pregnancy test? By which means? As it was explained by the worldwide renowned Egyptologist Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt in her book L’héritage fabuleux de l’Egypte (the fabulous heritage of Egypt), women were moistening a sample of barley and emmer wheat with their urine every day. If the barley grew it would mean that the expected child would be a boy; if the emmer wheat grew, it would mean that it is a girl. If none of both grew, it would mean that the woman is not pregnant. The efficiency of the test has been confirmed by modern science. Indeed, the urine of non-pregnant women prevents barley from growing up.

Statuette en bois- musée du caireFirst traces of condoms were found around 1350 BC in Egypt. Condom was composed of coloured linen soaked in olive oil. It was used on the mummies by embalmers, but we do not know if it was done for sacred or sexual reasons.

We also know about condoms made from intestinal membranes of sheep, especially used to prevent infectious diseases.

To prevent a pregnancy, a birth control pill is mostly used. It consists of hormones (estrogens) meant to inhibit one part of the brains (the hypothalamic-pituitary complex), and then prevent the foetus growth. The ancient Egyptians seemed having understood that because they were using hand-made pills.

Grinding pomegranate grains to make some powder, they were making small contraceptive cones with the help of wax. Indeed, pomegranate contains natural estrogen!

And that is not all! Egyptians were using some creams that we can compare to modern spermicides. Almost 3800 years ago, crocodile or elephant excrements mixed with honey, dates or other substances were used in the ointments and creams prescribed by Egyptian medical doctors.

The pyramids are not the only traces of that people’s ultra-modernity… and like often we have improved already existing techniques instead of inventing new ones.

Translated from French to English by Lisapo ya Kama

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