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Sci-Tech

Ancient Egyptians predicted a baby's gender with pee and barley

Papyrus manuscripts from thousands of years ago reveal some very unusual parenting advice.

egyptian
The Papyrus Carlsberg Collection/University of Copenhagen

People have been trying to guess whether a pregnant woman will have a boy or a girl for as long as women have been getting pregnant, it seems. 

Some think that if a woman can eat a lot of garlic but not smell it, she's carrying a girl. Or if a mother-to-be sleeps predominately on her left side, it's a boy.

Researchers translating Egyptian papyrus manuscripts dating back 3,500 years have found some ancient -- and unusual -- advice on the subject. 

The unpublished documents known as The Papyrus Carlsberg Collection stored at the University of Copenhagen cover medicine, botany, astronomy and other sciences practiced in ancient Egypt. 

Researchers have discovered that ancient Egyptians considered astrology a serious science.

"Today, astrology is seen as a pseudoscience, but in antiquity it was different. It was an important tool for predicting the future and it was considered a very central science," Egyptologist Kim Ryholt, Head of the Carlsberg Papyrus Collection, told Science Nordic.

"For example, a king needed to check when was a good day to go to war," he added.  

The manuscripts also showed how the Egyptians treated eye diseases and that they knew about the existence of kidneys.  

But one of the more unusual passages describes a prenatal test.

According to the preserved texts, a pregnant woman would pee into a bag of barley and a bag of wheat. The bag that sprouted first indicated the sex of her child. If neither bag sprouted... well, she wasn't pregnant. 

The same pregnancy test used by Egyptians is apparently also mentioned in German folklore from 1699.

"That really puts things into perspective, as it shows that the Egyptian ideas have left traces thousands of years later," University of Copenhagen Ph.D. student Sofie Schiødt told Science Nordic.

Schiødt is working with other students to translate the ancient texts.

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