The Science of Ancient Egypt

  • Instructor Dr. David Purvis
  • Code GS05F
  • Student Ages 8-11
  • Term Fall Semester 2023


This course will cover the scientific aspects of the ancient Egyptian culture. Students will begin by studying the geography, climate, and ecosystems surrounding the Nile River and the Sahara Desert, with an emphasis on the richness of the Egyptian environment and the annual floods that fertilized the crops with nutrients, which allowed this great civilization to flourish. Other topics will include irrigation and the many crops and foods that the Egyptians grew, as well as the science of bread-making.

The course will highlight the natural resources available to the ancient Egyptians, including natron, sand, and limestone—the ingredients used to make glass. The Egyptians used kilns not only to make pottery and glass but also to smelt metals from ores, and particular attention will be given to copper and its scientific properties in the context of modern science. The Egyptians made jewelry out of gold and silver, and the course will cover the physical characteristics of these metals as well.

Students will also examine the animals of ancient Egypt, including mammals, birds, and reptiles, as well as insects such as the sacred scarab beetle. As they learn about the simple tools and machines used in ancient Egypt, they will appreciate the unsolved mysteries of the pyramids and the amazing construction of the Great Pyramid itself.

Finally, the course will cover the astronomy of ancient Egypt, blending ancient beliefs with modern knowledge of the constellation Orion and the Star of Isis (Sirius). The course will culminate in the study of mummies, during which students will make their own mummies as they examine the science of osmosis and decomposition. Along the way, they will participate in interesting activities, and the live classes will include interesting demonstrations.

Live Classes: Tuesdays, 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time, from the week of August 21st to the week of December 4th

Student Expectations: Students will be expected to complete activities, readings, and experiments.

Student Support: The instructor is available via email.

Feedback/Assessment: The instructor will provide feedback on all assignments and activities.

Materials/Supplies: Students will need a notebook for notes, activities, and assignments. Occasionally they will also need certain easily-obtainable materials. In addition, in order to complete assignments, students will need to purchase a printable Ancient Egypt Science workbook, available here.

Prerequisites: None


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