This Is How The Ancient Egyptians Did Pregnancy Tests (With Surprising Accuracy!)

This Is How The Ancient Egyptians Did Pregnancy Tests (And It Still Works!)
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Home pregnancy tests hit the American market back in the 1970s. Initially, the tests were cumbersome (they involved a number of items, including sheep red blood cells), and not completely reliable. Since then, pregnancy tests have evolved and the procedure has been simplified. They are all based on detecting trace levels of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in the woman’s urine. But you might be surprised to hear that pregnancy testing by urine is not a novel approach at all.

The first record of a homemade pregnancy test comes from Ancient Egypt. A papyrus described a test that required a potentially pregnant woman to pee on barley and wheat seeds over a period of a few days. If the seeds sprouted, she was pregnant. They even determined the baby’s gender with this method.


If it was barley that sprouted, it was a girl. If wheat sprouted, a woman was expecting a male child. As strange as it might seem, the test was actually accurate in 70% of all cases. In 1963, the laboratory test showed that urine of pregnant women did cause the seeds to sprout. The seeds probably started to grow due to the elevated levels of estrogens, which stimulate growth. But the Egyptian gender hypothesis was of course not confirmed.

Urine was also used in the Middle Ages to determine if a woman was expecting. Europe saw the emergence of so called ‘piss prophets’ that claimed to be able to diagnose many conditions by looking at the color of urine. Pregnant woman had urine that was clear pale lemon color leaning toward off-white, having a cloud on its surface, according to the text from 1552. Sometimes the woman’s urine was mixed with wine. This could actually lead to a moderate success rate, as alcohol reacts with certain proteins in urine.

In the 1920s, it was already known that a specific hormone was present in the urine of pregnant women. The urine was injected into sexually immature rabbits and rodents, and the animals’ ovaries were examined after 5 days. On the fifth day, the animals were killed and autopsied to examine the state of their ovaries. If the pee came from a woman that was pregnant, bulging masses were found on the ovaries.


After the Rabbit Test, came the Frog Test, which worked on the same principle, but was a bit more humane, since the frogs didn’t have to be killed. The injected amphibians produced eggs within 24 hours if the lady was pregnant. It has been suggested that with the emergence of home pregnancy tests, frogs became obsolete, so they were released into the wild. They caused an ecological catastrophe and contributed to the extinction of many native amphibians worldwide.

We might not use barley and wheat for testing anymore – and it’s also not sure how GMO wheat and barley would react to urine – but it’s interesting to note how our ancestors already knew that the answer could be found in urine.

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One Response to This Is How The Ancient Egyptians Did Pregnancy Tests (With Surprising Accuracy!)

  1. NUHUH says:

    This was interesting until…why did you have to go and bring GMOs into it? Um, no. Unless they have been engineered to react or not react with urine, a GMO plant is not going to act any different than any other example of the species. You are trying to inject scaremongering. Genetic modification isn’t a gamble, it makes extremely precise changes to a genome. You know what isn’t precise, what is a random gamble? Selective breeding.

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