How urine was used to detect pregnancy 4000 years ago

How urine was used to detect pregnancy 4,000 years ago G1

1 of 2 Three Egyptian papyri show that urine was used for pregnancy tests 4,500 years ago Photo: GETTY IMAGES Three Egyptian papyri show that urine was used for pregnancy tests 4,500 years ago Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Nowadays, it’s usually pretty easy to find out if you’re pregnant: you pee on the stick that comes with the pharmacy test and wait for the lines to appear.

Homeuse tests for women were first commercialized in the 1960s. They work by detecting the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in urine, which is produced primarily by placental cells during pregnancy.

A blood test can provide information as early as 11 days after conception, and a urine test a few days later.

Of course, a positive pregnancy test doesn’t necessarily result in a baby One in five cases ends in miscarriage. However, this positive test is often seen as the beginning of a journey toward motherhood.

But everything used to be completely different. Obvious signs of a missed period or food cravings may indicate pregnancy. But until the pregnancy was much further along, there was no way to know that the symptoms weren’t caused by an illness or menopause.

In ancient Greece, it was believed that women would know if they were pregnant by feeling their uterus close after sex which, of course, is impossible. Especially because at such an early stage neither fertilization nor implantation has taken place.

But that hasn’t stopped people from finding out for sure. The Hippocratic medical text “Aphorisms” from the 4th century B.C. BC suggested that a woman drink a sip of mead before going to bed. It was a mixture of wine, water and honey that would cause pain if the woman became pregnant.

Kim Phillips, a history professor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, examined “Secrets of Women,” a 13thcentury medical text. It was believed that this happened because “at the moment of fertilization, menstrual blood” would rise “to the breasts.” .


Today, urine is the key to an accurate answer. Although it may seem like a modern method, it is not. In fact, three ancient Egyptian papyri show that urine was used as early as 4,500 years ago.

These papyri describe a woman wanting to know whether she could become pregnant, or a woman possibly pregnant urinating on wheat and barley seeds for several days. If the barley sprouts first, it is a boy, but if the wheat grows first, it is a girl. If none of the seeds sprout, she is not pregnant.

🪡Many variations of urine tests have been found throughout history. In fact, several medical prescriptions since the Middle Ages stated that a needle inserted into a woman’s urine would turn red or black if she was pregnant. In the 16th century, the word “needle” was incorrectly interpreted as “nettle”, This led to the idea that a woman should leave nettle in some of her urine overnight and that if she had red spots in the morning, she was pregnant.

These tests can be done under the supervision of a doctor or on your own. Since its founding in 1518, the Royal College of Physicians in London has banned female healers from practicing medicine. This included a uroscopy (medical urine test), but some women still had it.

🌹In the early 17th century, a woman named Mistress Phillips possibly a midwife was brought to trial for using uroscopy to diagnose pregnancy. Catherine Chaire, a woman who practiced medicine illegally in London in the 1590s, had her own method: she claimed she could “diagnose pregnancy.” Wash clothes with red rose water and soap“.

2 of 2 The Greeks believed that a woman could “feel the proximity of her uterus” when she became pregnant Photo: Portal The Greeks believed that a woman could “feel the proximity of her uterus” when she became pregnant Photo: Portal

The focus on urine in many of these ancient tests is a precursor to what we know today. And variations of these urinebased tests were repeated in medical writings well into the 17th century. If a woman’s urine was kept in a sealed container for a few days, “certain living things” could be seen in the bottle, according to the book Compleat Midwives Practice in 1656. Another option was to boil the urine white streaks would mean that the woman was pregnant.

In the 1930s, there were first signs that seed testing, described as magical in ancient Egypt, should not be abandoned. Research to test this hypothesis found that pregnant women’s urine actually caused seeds to grow in 70% of cases although there was no connection to the sex of the child. Using the urine of men or women who were not pregnant did not have the same effect. Apparently, there was actually a unique substance in the urine of pregnant women.

This 20thcentury research proved that all of these historical tests—whether they involved seeds or needles—pointed to something much more reliable than special drinks, washing clothes in rose water, or examining breasts.

🐸Another way of using urine was introduced in the 1920s and 1930s. First, female mice and rabbits were injected with urine from a pregnant woman and killed to see if her ovaries had changed. Later, live frogs (the preferred species was the African clawed frog) were used and injected with women’s urine. If the woman were pregnant, the frogs would release eggs.

Research into this lasted until the 1950s. However, all of these methods were expensive and not 100% reliable. In addition, they were cruel to rats and frogs. And in the 1960s, new studies on antibodies led to the pregnancy test we know today.

🤰Pregnancy has always played a fundamental role in women’s history. The ability to become pregnant was crucial to inheritance and succession matters. And the history of pregnancy testing shows that people were looking in the right direction even before they had the tools to be sure of their results.

Helen King is Emeritus Professor of Classical Studies at the Open University

*This article was published on the science news website The Conversation and reproduced here under a Creative Commons license. Click here to read the original version in English.

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