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How Did Egyptians Incubate Eggs?

Today, artificial incubation is essential to help control the environment in which the egg is placed. Chicken eggs, in particular, need 21 days to process. Farmers would need to help control the temperature, humidity, and turning the egg. But did you know that one of the most wondrous inventions of ancient Egypt is the egg oven?

Brick incubators, known as egg ovens, were made in ancient Egypt during the 4th century BC. These ovens helped hatch thousands of eggs in 2 to 3 weeks. There are roughly 200 ovens still used today, with techniques passed on through several generations.

Impressive Inventions

Ancient Greeks were impressed with many aspects of Egyptian culture. They excelled in mathematics, papyrus-making, art, and, yes, the process of egg-hatching. Aristotle was the first to mention the egg-hatching innovation of the Egyptians.

In Egypt, eggs are hatched spontaneously in the ground, by being buried in dung heaps.

Aristotle

But it wasn’t until 200 years later when the invention was given proper attention. Diodorus Siculus described how smart the egg-hatching oven was. He wrote a forty-book-long historical compendium called Library of History

The most astonishing fact is that, by reason of their unusual application to such matters, the men in Egypt who have charge of poultry and geese, in addition to producing them in the natural way known to all mankind, raise them by their own hands, by virtue of a skill peculiar to them, in numbers beyond telling.

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History

(Source: Atlas Obscura)

How Did the Incubator Ovens Work?

The concept of the brick incubator ovens is quite simple. The system consisted of mud ovens designed to replicate the condition under a hen as she broods—key factors; heat, moisture, and turning the egg occasionally. A single egg oven can hold 4,500 fertilized eggs over a period of two to three weeks. (Source: Atlas Obscura)

Westerner’s Impression of the Incubators

The number of eggs that were being hatched within a short time truly impressed western travelers. In 1750, René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, a french entomologist, wrote an entire narrative on the invention.

Egypt ought to be prouder of the egg hatching oven than the pyramids.

René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur

(Source: Atlas Obscura)

When Was the Ancient Egg Incubator Made?

Considering all the inventions that originated from Ancient Egypt, the egg incubator was created relatively late in the timeline.

Chickens were not a native bird of the Nile valley. They probably came from Asia—where they were domesticated from wild fowls 10,000 years ago—through Mesopotamia, or perhaps via trade ships that sailed to East Africa.

Salima Ikram, American Univsersity in Cairo

Chickens became a staple by 30 BC, and in order to have a regular supply of them. The first egg incubator was developed. (Source: Atlas Obscura)

Did Ancient Egyptians Share the Technology?

According to some historians, Egyptians were quite secretive with their inventions. Travelers who saw the egg incubators relied on their imagination on how it worked since the factual process was not openly shared. Because of this, several stories started to form.

Simon Fitzsimons, an Irish friar, who visited Egypt as part of a pilgrimage, thought that the egg ovens were of a supernatural origin.

Also in Cairo, outside the Gate and almost immediately to the right there is a long narrow house in which chickens are generated by fire from hen eggs, without cocks and hens, and in such numbers that they cannot be numbered.

Simon Fitzsimons

(Source: Atlas Obscura)

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