Life in Ancient Egypt

The Natural World

MaskThe most important geographic feature in Egypt is the Nile River itself. It was the lifeblood of ancient Egypt, and still makes life possible in the otherwise barren desert. The longest river in the world (over 4,000 miles), the Nile is formed by the union in Khartoum, Sudan, of the White Nile from Lake Victoria in Uganda and the Blue Nile from the mountains of Ethiopia.

The Nile was the principal means of travel for the people of ancient Egypt. They developed various types of boats, including cargo, passenger, funerary, and naval vessels, to journey on the river.

This ancient boat, displayed in Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt, dates to about 1859 B.C. It may have been used in the funeral rituals of Senwosret III, a powerful Dynasty XII Pharaoh. Study of the boat has yielded important information about boat building in ancient Egypt.

The Nile also served as a source of food for the people of ancient Egypt and was crucial to agriculture in the region. The river teemed with fish, and the ancient Egyptians consumed many different kinds, including catfish, mullet, bolti, and perch. Because it left a layer of nutrient-bearing silt when the waters of the annual inundation receded and provided water for irrigation, the Nile made agriculture and, therefore, life in ancient Egypt possible. The river was a regular and predictable source of water in a desert environment. Because the annual flood of the Nile revitalized the floodplain with water and new soil, it symbolized rebirth for the ancient Egyptians.

The Carnegie BoatThe low strip of fertile land located on either side of the Nile River is known as the floodplain. Most ancient settlements were located on the highest ground of this zone, and most of the farming occurred here. A strip of higher land on either side of the floodplain, known as the low desert, was not watered by the Nile. It was a zone of little vegetation where men hunted and where the Egyptians located their cemeteries.

The high desert was a barren area that was crossed only by trade caravans or organized groups searching for stone and mineral resources. Several oases located in the high desert were cultivated to grow valuable crops like grapes and dates. These areas were important links in trade with more remote areas.

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