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6
The Plow
Peeking in an Egyptian Toolshed

The plow certainly made the process of planting crops much easier, but farming was still backbreaking work. Farmers used short-handled hoes to till the ground, forcing them to stoop over in the hot sun all day long. The Egyptians also carried seeds in baskets and used scythes to help them harvest their crops. Perhaps the most ingenious farming tools, however, were the pigs and sheep they used to trample seed into the dirt.

While historians aren't entirely certain of where the plow originated, evidence suggests that the Egyptians and Sumerians were among the first societies to employ its use around 4000 B.C. [source: Pryor]. Those plows certainly had room for improvement. Likely built from modified hand tools, the plows were so light and ineffective that they are now referred to as "scratch plows" for their inability to dig deep into the ground. What's more, the plows ran on nothing more than elbow grease. For instance, wall paintings illustrate four men pulling a plow through a field together -- not a great way to spend a day in the scorching Egyptian sun.

That all changed in 2000 B.C., when the Egyptians first hooked their plows to oxen [source: Leju]. Early designs were connected to the horns of cattle but proved to interfere with the animal's ability to breathe. Later versions incorporated a system of straps and were much more effective. The plow revolutionized farming in ancient Egypt and, combined with the steady rhythm of the Nile River, made farming easier for the Egyptians than perhaps any other society of the time.

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