Nowadays, you can just walk in the drugstore to find a bevy of pregnancy tests to tell you if you’re going to have a new bouncing baby boy or girl. But what did people do before there was a CVS on every corner? Shockingly, ancient Egyptians used a crazy accurate test using barley, wheat and the same magical ingredient of today…

Instead of a stick, they used a bag!

One researcher was studying a papyrus from ancient Egypt, and found the formula for pregnancy tests used nearly 3,500 years ago! Instead of peeing on a stick, women would urinate into a bag filled with barley and emmer wheat.

According to the translated instructions, “If they grow, she will give birth. If the barley grows, it is a boy. If the emmer grows, it is a girl. If they do not grow, she will not give birth.”

Just how accurate was this test?

Medical historians and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) both set out to fact check this ancient practice, and the results came back positive! In a 20th century study, NIH determined that this kind of pregnancy test was indeed accurate about 70% of the time.

Silicon Valley Shakespeare

The only bummer for the Egyptians of yore? The barley-emmer sprouting test for gender should have been added to Egyptian mythology; this procedure did not yield accurate results.

How did it even work?

It’s unclear how they thought to use urine; maybe a woman popped a squat while working in a field and they noticed some sprouting? Most modern tests use proteins to pick up the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This wouldn’t have been the case back then, so many scientists think elevated levels of estrogen may have sped up seed growth.


Either way, this ancient Egyptian advice definitely influenced civilizations to come, showing up in 17th-century German folklore, and trickling down to the plastic pee sticks we know today!