The canning of food was invented in the early 1800s by a French confectioner named Nicolas Appert (1749-1841). He placed food in champagne bottles, corked them loosely, immersed them in boiling water and hammered the corks tight. This practice preserved the food for extended periods, but neither he nor his emulators who later perfected the preservation of food in tin-plated canisters knew why this technique worked; it’s a textbook case of an applied technology without any theoretical basis. Louis Pasteur knew of Appert’s work, but his scientific methods and careful experiments succeeded in convincing many skeptics. The optimal temperatures for the preservation of various foods with minimal damage to flavor were worked out by two scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA, Samuel Prescott (1872—1962) and William Lyman Underwood (1864—1929) in 1895-96. Their work represented a milestone in the development of food technology and food science. Appert’s method of cooking the food to a temperature far in excess of what is used in pasteurization can easily destroy some of the flavor.
Writers praising the science of ancient Egypt will often start with the pyramids. There are dozens of pyramids, indeed more than one hundred in Egypt alone. The earliest is the so-called Step Pyramid at Saqqara, designed by the polymath Imhotep for Pharaoh Djoser (reign ca. 2630—2611 BC), but the most famous examples are the ones at Giza outside the city of Cairo, the pyramids of Khafre, Menkaure and the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek) was the tallest man-made structure in the world for almost four thousand years, until Lincoln Cathedral was completed in England around 1300 AD. The Great Pyramid is visually impressive, to be sure, but it’s a stunt and represents more of a triumph for organization than for science. Contrary to popular belief, the ancient Egyptians were not too sophisticated in mathematics compared to their contemporaries in Mesopotamia. Their most lasting achievement lay in the medical sciences. Since these were continued by the ancient Greeks, it is possible to claim that the Western medical tradition begins with the Egyptian medical tradition. Among the Egyptian mathematical achievements, by far the most influential was their solar calendar, which, admittedly with many later modifications, formed the basis for the Gregorian calendar which is used internationally today.