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We remember the ancient Egyptians most for the pyramids and colossal limestone structures they built. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the ancient Egyptians were responsible for inventing several surprisingly sophisticated tools and building techniques.
Ancient Egyptians needed to use an advanced system of measurement and reliable measuring tools to construct the pyramids and other buildings for which they’re now famous. Many of these were designed in strict accordance with mathematical principles. For example, it’s clear that the ancient Egyptians used equations that closely resemble the Pythagorean theorem, and their buildings suggest a clear understanding of the fact that the corner of a triangle opposite the hypotenuse is a right angle when the triangle is in a 3-4-5 ratio.
Measuring rods like the one pictured above were used to measure units known as cubits. Examples of measuring rods have been found in several royal tombs, suggesting that they were a prized possession.
Each cubit was considered equal to seven palm widths, which were further divided into four finger widths each. In our modern system of measurement, a cubit is equal to about 52 centimetres.
Wood was – and continues to be – a widely used material in Egypt, particularly in agriculture. It is both tough and pliable. Ancient Egyptian farmers did not have a European style ploughshare. Rather, theirs were made entirely from wood, as there was not much need to turn the top soil thanks to the Nile depositing nutrients with its yearly flooding. Wooden hoes, rakes and scoops have also been found in tombs and burial chambers.
The ancient Egyptians use sharpened flint tools to carve hieroglyphics into limestone. When the limestone was first quarried, it would have been relatively soft, so creating the markings required little force but much finesse. Flint tools were also used to sharpen axes, adze blades, chisels and knives.
Another ancient Egyptian invention, also made of flint, is tweezers. Examples of these tweezers, as well as depictions of their use, have been found. Tweezers were used by craftsmen, as well as by ladies of the time, for plucking hairs.
The ancient Egyptians used what we now call a plumb bob to ensure truly straight vertical lines in their architecture. They also used their version of the plumb bob in the fields of navigation, surveying and astronomy.
The Abydos Boats
The ancient Egyptians didn’t excel only at building pyramids and temples. A mile from the royal tombs in Abydos, Egypt, a team of archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania Museum unearthed 14 boats. Although these aren’t the oldest boats discovered, they feature amazingly sophisticated woodworking techniques, including the Mortise-Tenon joint pictured below. Although this building technique was unorthodox, it allowed for the boats to be easily disassembled and put together again so that they could be transported over land.
The boat makers also used the unusual technique of “sewing” the wood together with reeds, presumably as a secondary measure for once the Mortise-Tenon joints were connected.
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