Ancient Pregnancy Tests

The modern urine-based home pregnancy test first appeared in drug stores in 1977.  Unlike the streamlined, simple color-coded test results prospective parents enjoy today, this test was complicated, involving several implements and steps, and was also finicky and time-consuming.  The slightest vibration could spoil the test results.

“it contained a vial of purified water, an angled mirror, a test tube and red blood cells taken from a sheep.” — New York Time

egyptian-wall-carving-of wheat

But, the idea that the urine of a pregnant woman was perceptibly different from that of a non-pregnant woman has persisted since ancient times.  The first known recorded pregnancy test dates to 1350 BCE in ancient Egypt.

This test involved relatively simple to acquire wheat and barley seeds.  Women were instructed to urinate on the mixture for several days.  If wheat sprouted, she was pregnant with a girl.  If barley sprouted, she was pregnant with a boy.  If neither sprouted, she wasn’t pregnant.

Early myths indicate ancient Egyptians believed that wheat came from women and barley came from men. It’s impossible to know whether the myths came first or the observations about pregnant womens’ urine did.

In 1963, laboratory tests were done on this method of pregnancy detection. It was found to have a 70% accuracy rate.  The seeds probably started to grow due to the elevated levels of estrogens, which stimulate growth.  The accuracy of gender prediction based on which seeds sprouted is unknown, though.

Perhaps not surprisingly, several other ancient and not so ancient pregnancy tests involved the test subject’s urine also.  Our ancestors were as perceptive and intelligent as we are.


A Cambridge museum is talking about sex – with an ancient Roman Penis Pot

Source: A Cambridge museum is talking about sex – with an ancient Roman Penis Pot | Cambridge News

2 thoughts on “Ancient Pregnancy Tests”

  1. That was fascinating but not surprising that our ancestors were so perceptive. I had no idea about this, though, and I love how you research these tidbits of information. I enjoy your blog so much. Your interests broaden my knowledge base in a way that is both fun and enlightening.

  2. I research the tidbits because I find them interesting, too! There is a universe of research, findings and connections out there, and the field becomes more rich with every passing day. I’m glad you enjoy them!

    I’m planning to write more frequent articles during the next few weeks, as my editing schedule allows.

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