Jan Bartek – Icestech.info – The ancient Egyptian egg ovens are an excellent example demonstrating one should not underestimate how clever our ancestors were. About 2,000-years ago, Egyptians came up with the incredible idea of producing an enormous amount of eggs. They constructed an egg incubator that could produce as many as 4,500 fertilized eggs in just two or three weeks!
Today considered the world’s oldest man-made incubators this hatching system was using artificial heat. The ancient Egyptian mud ovens had been designed to replicate the conditions under a broody hen, and the invention worked perfectly. The largest egg oven had a capacity of 80,000 eggs.
Ancient Egyptians were very secretive with their egg ovens, and the technology was long kept secret. Still, knowledge of this invention spread to neighboring lands. Some curious scholars wanted to see whether the ancient Egyptian egg incubators were as incredible as they were said to be.
Diodorus Siculus ( 90 B.C – 30 B.C), a Greek historian known for his universal history Bibliotheca Historica was so impressed with the Egyptian egg ovens that he described the technology in his compendium 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 stated in his ancient work.
Aristotle and Diodorus were equally impressed with the egg incubators and described them as an ingenious system.
The Irish friar Simon Fitzsimons who visited Egypt said the egg ovens were supernatural. “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,” Fitzsimons said referring to the Egyptian egg incubators.
The fact that ancient Egyptians were unwilling to share their technological secrets made it difficult to create a similar egg incubator, but many tried.
One of the best accurate descriptions of the Egyptian egg ovens comes from the Frenchman René-Antoine Ferchault de Réamur who visited the country in 1750 and described the mega incubators in his book “Art de faire éclorre et d’élever en toute saison des oisseaux” (1751).
Réaumur wrote that the people working in the ovens were almost as a caste and came from the same village and region: Bermé in the Nile Delta. The workers from Bermé learned this art handed down from father to son. One man was enough to operate a hatchery, which was active for six months in succession, for a total of eight of hatching rounds of incubated chicken eggs.
It was a heated brick structure, formed by a central corridor provided with openings, which gave access on both sides to a number of compartments in two tiers – an average of 5 per side – in each of which were lying 4500 eggs on the ground floor. Both the upper and lower chambers communicated with the corridor through an opening that allowed access to a man.
“Traverse section and perspective elevation of an Egyptian Egg-oven.” Published in “The Penny Magazine”, Volume II, Number 87, August 10, 1833. Credit: Public Domain
In the lower chamber were the eggs, arranged on mats or on tow, and communicated with the upper chamber through a central opening whose dimensions are such as to allow the heat from above, to reach the eggs in the incubation chamber. In the upper chamber, in a peripheral groove, cow dung or dromedary dung was burnt, which had been dried and mixed with straw and then compressed. They used this kind of fules in order to obtain a smoldering fire, which was lit twice daily, morning and evening, and mats were applied to a half of the vent hole of the upper chamber so that the hot air was forced to pass through the corridor.
Every day the eggs were turned, transferred to any other point warmer or cooler, when needed, and partly transferred into the upper chamber when the fire was no longer lit. The man in charge of the hatchery was such an expert that he did not need a thermometer – although, they were nonexistent. The temperature of the eggs was checked by the egg against the cheek or against an eyelid. Two-thirds of the incubated eggs hatched.” 1
Today, there are about 200 such egg ovens used in Egyptian rural areas. It is incredible to see that technology invented 2,000 years ago has passed the test of time!
Written by Jan Bartek – Icestech.info Staff Writer
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- Elio Corti, Elly Vogelaar – The Oldest Hatcheries Are Still In Use – aviculture-europe.nl