By: April Carson
When Howard Carter uncovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, he was astonished by the sheer number of artifacts left for the boy king's use after death - 5,000 to be exact. Among these artifacts was the oldest known condom ever discovered. These grave goods were meant to equip him with everything necessary for his journey into eternity.
Despite the abundance of golden trinkets, silver items, ebony furnishings, and ivory accessories that comprised King Tutankhamun's burial chamber—as well as rare perfumes and weapons—experts were particularly taken by one small piece of clothing: a condom. This tiny item was seen to be essential for his journey into the afterlife.
This condom, approximately 2.5 cm long and made of sheep intestine, was discovered amongst items known to protect against the dangers of the afterlife – such as a mummification amulet or magic bricks.
The oldest known condom in existence is Tutankhamun's, which was dated to 1350 BC. Crafted out of a fine linen sheath and doused with olive oil, it contained traces of his DNA as well as an attached string that would have been fastened around the waist. If the condom was being used for contraception, not ritual or preventive purposes, it is likely to have been fruitless. The discovery of two unborn fetuses inside his tomb and genetic testing conclusively showing King Tut as the father further solidifies this hypothesis.
The true purpose of the condom remains a mystery and one that may never be answered due to the lack of other archaeological evidence or written records. Nevertheless, this discovery provides an interesting insight into ancient practices related to reproduction and is a reminder that condoms have been in use for thousands of years.
Dating back to 1825 BC, the Kahun Medical Papyrus (also known as the Gynaecological Papyrus) outlines many Egyptian methods of contraception. One recipe included a mixture composed of crocodile dung and other unidentified ingredients that were said to be effective in preventing pregnancy. After combining the components, this concoction would be molded into a pessary shape. It is thought that crocodile feces carry alkaline properties, which serve as an effective contraceptive.
The ancient condom discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb further confirms the use of contraceptives among Egyptians. This item was found to be made of a goat membrane, suggesting that it may have been used as protection or even as a form of symbolic ritual. While it is impossible to know its original purpose, this unique artifact provides insight into ancient Egyptian sexual practices.
The Egyptians may have pioneered the use of condoms, but other civilizations quickly caught on. In ancient Rome, linen and animal intestine or bladder were used to create them. Meanwhile in China, oil-soaked silk paper served as a material for their sheaths. Japan had a unique tradition of covering the glans with tortoise shells or animal horns.
The archaic Djukas tribe of New Guinea utilized plant material to create female condoms, while Muslims and Jews during the Middle Ages fashioned tar-covered sheaths as well as soaking their organs in onion juice for protection against unwanted pregnancy. Condoms have been part of a shared human experience for centuries, with the ancient Egyptians serving as a reminder of our ingenuity and ability to adapt.
In the 15th century, when French troops first experienced a severe outbreak of syphilis, disease prevention became an immediate necessity. As a result, linen sheaths soaked in chemical solutions were adopted widely as protection from this and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The discovery of an ancient condom in the tomb of Tutankhamun has raised questions about the use of condoms in ancient Egypt. While evidence suggests that some form of protection was used during this period, much is still unknown about the exact materials and methods used. As archaeologists continue to uncover new artifacts from the past, we can gain a better understanding of the history and evolution of condom use. Ultimately, this helps us to better understand our practices today, and how we can further improve upon them in the future.
During the Renaissance, condoms were made from not only linen but also animal intestines and bladder. However, things changed with the invention of rubber in the early 19th century which helped revolutionize condom production for centuries to come. By 1850, many companies began mass-producing them and ever since then, their effectiveness has been undeniable.
Now, it is widely accepted that condoms were used as contraception and protection from STIs for thousands of years before the 19th century. But few know about one of the earliest known examples - a 3,000-year-old “ancient condom” discovered in the tomb of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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