//Skip to content
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

From Kohl to Toothpaste: 8 Ancient Egyptian Inventions That Stood the Test of Time

August 25, 2023
Ancient Egyptian temple of Dendra. Photo credit: Vyacheslav Argenberg.

The ancient Egyptians were faced with the monumental task of forging their own paths of innovation, prompted by necessity, curiosity, and a desire for progress. The Egyptians, alongside the Sumerians, were in the unique position of having to invent or discover fundamental concepts and technologies from scratch, as opposed to later civilizations that could build upon the foundations established by others.

The enduring impact of ancient Egypt extends well beyond the passage of time, leaving a lasting imprint of innovative creations that continues to influence contemporary society.

To honor this millennia-old civilization, here are eight inventions created by ancient Egyptians.


Ancient Egyptian kohl pot and stick. Photo credit: Welcome Images.

A remnant of ancient Egyptian heritage that still lives on to this day, kohl dates back to 5,000 B.C. The term ‘kohl’, derived from Arabic origins, refers to various eye cosmetics and preparations applied over the eye to enhance lashes and brows and to outline the first’s contours.

The ancient Egyptians ingeniously blended soot and the mineral galena to produce a black ointment. Additionally, they created green eye makeup similar to mascara by combining galena with another mineral called malachite.

The Plow

The use of the plow in ancient Egypt. Photo credit: The Yorck Project.

Researchers in anthropology and archaeology consistently uncover connections between the spread of agriculture and the ascent of human civilization. Without the introduction of agriculture on such a massive scale in the Neolithic age, ancient Egypt as we know it might not have existed.

With that said, the plow holds the distinction of being the most important agricultural invention in human history. It serves the essential functions of soil turning, fragmentation, burying crop residues, and assisting in weed control.

Around 4000 B.C., the Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to pioneer the use of the plow. These prototypes were remarkably lightweight and not as efficient as their modern counterparts, earning them the name “scratch plows” due to their limited ability to penetrate the soil.

Breath Mints

Fresco in the tomb of Nakht, Luxor. Photo credit: Gabana Studios Cairo.

Using stones for grinding flour to make bread introduced a significant amount of sand and grit into the ancient Egyptian diet. This resulted in tooth enamel erosion, exposing the tooth’s inner part and making it susceptible to infections.

Notably, the ancient Egyptians innovatively crafted the earliest form of breath mints. By boiling a mixture of cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, and honey, they produced small pellets that effectively combated undesirable odors, including bad breath, and played a role in preventing dry mouth.

Black Ink

Linen mummy bandage inscribed with black ink. Photo credit: Walters Art Museum.

Around 5,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians instigated a paradigm shift that revolutionized the world: papyrus and ink. These two innovations helped document and transfer human ideas, propelling civilizations forward.

Egyptians combined vegetable gum, soot, and bee wax to formulate black ink. Additionally, they diversified their ink’s composition by substituting soot with alternative substances like ochre, producing a spectrum of colors.


Ancient Egyptian obelisks. Photo credit: Rogers Fund.

The ancient Egyptians are believed to have been one of the first civilizations to partition a day into segments, allowing them to tell the time.

Around 3,500 B.C., the Egyptians utilized the shadows these colossal stone obelisks cast to establish the time of day. While these stone edifices also had narrative purposes, their primary utility was their effectiveness as shadow clocks. This method enabled them to identify the longest and shortest days of the year.


Head of Amenhotep III Wearing the Round Wig. Photo credit: Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund.

Wigs and their manufacturing can be traced back to ancient Egypt. The earliest known example was discovered in the burial of a woman at Hierakonpolis, now called Al-Kom Al-Ahmar, dating back to 3,400 B.C.

Mainly worn by the upper echelons of Egyptian society, wigs had a dual role; they not only indicated high status in Egypt’s rigid social structure but also shielded shaved scalps, another symbol of nobility, from the sun. Additionally, wigs contributed to maintaining hygiene standards by reducing the prevalence of head lice.

Door Locks

Ancient Egyptian wooden door lock. Photo credit: Museo Egizio

The origins of locks are thought to trace back to around 4,000 B.C. in ancient Egypt These early locks were affixed to substantial doors and featured a straightforward mechanism. This mechanism involved pins of differing lengths that would drop into designated slots when the lock was engaged. To unlock the door, a wooden key was employed to lift the pins out of the slots, permitting the door to be opened.

The concept of this uncomplicated pin-lock system, along with the utilization of a wooden key, spread from Egypt to Greece and subsequently reached the Roman Empire.


A limestone relief fragment from an ancient Egyptian tomb. Photo credit: Mark Cartwright.

Cleanliness and oral hygiene held significant importance for the ancient Egyptians, especially among the affluent class. They were pioneers in early toothpaste development, crafting a rudimentary version. Their toothpaste formulation consisted of ingredients such as rock salt, dried iris flowers, pepper, and crushed mint, all mixed into a finely textured paste using a small quantity of water.

Subscribe to the Egyptian Streets’ weekly newsletter! Catch up on the latest news, arts & culture headlines, exclusive features and more stories that matter, delivered straight to your inbox by clicking here.

Comments (3)