Museum of Ancient Inventions: Tumbler Lock

Tumbler Lock, Egypt, Iraq, Greece, 1000 BCE

This simple tumbler lock was probably invented around 1000 BCE, although a date of 2000 BCE has also been proposed. Many sources believe this lock was invented in Egypt, though locks of this type have been found in ruins in Iraq that predate those found in Egypt. After its invention and its movement into Egypt, the lock made its way into Greece. Here this new system was a great improvement over the previous locks, which were simply a board drawn across a door. From Greece the lock moved into Europe.

The lock is the first mechanical fastening for doors, and is said to be the only major European architectural improvement in classical times.The mechanism consists of a key and a lock. The key is simply a bit of wood with small pins, usually of brass. These pins enter small holes in the bolt and lift similar pins in the lock. The pins of the key push the lock pins out of the holes, and the bolt can be moved aside and the door opened. When leaving the building, the bolt is slid across the door jamb, and the pins fall into the grooves in the bolt. To unlock, the key is slid into the opening in the bolt and lifted up, which moves the bolt-pins out of the way.

Method of Construction

Constructed by: Mara Bishop and Amanda Payne Burton

Our method of construction would have been the envy of locksmiths in ancient Egypt. We used preprocessed oak, which we cut on the bandsaw and milled on the milling machine. We mounted our lock and bolt on a Plexiglas door to enable viewing of the functioning of the lock and key.

Science Topics
Inventions & Scientists
Engineering Topics
Social Studies Topics
Ancient History
K-6, Middle School, High School
Kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade

What are you looking for?


Smith College

Website URL

Type of Resource


Assigned Categories