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Early western civilization - Essay Example

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By 5,000 BCE the Nile valley from modern-day Sudan right to its Delta on the Mediterranean seacoast had been home to various peoples for many thousands of years. As early as 16,000 BCE people living near the shores of lakes formed on the upper Nile, as well as on the upper river itself, lived in small villages, made fishing gear and boats, and produced some of the earliest pottery known…
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Download file to see previous pages Moving north from the First Cataract, the Nile flows through a comparatively narrow valley. The lands along the banks are characterized by a series of natural basins (called hods), which have been altered by human engineering for the last 7,000 years. As one nears the Delta in the north, the floodplain widens and the basins become less distinct, until in the Delta itself the land is divided not into basins, but into islands and peninsulas formed by the alluvial deposits of soil over thousands of years. In very ancient times "Lower Egypt" began south of the Delta itself, including the broader floodplain from Memphis north.
The most important historical-geographic feature of the Lower Nile, of course, is its annual flood, which following the summer rains in Ethiopia, bursts into Egypt in August and typically continues for two months, leaving both destruction and riches in its wake. The flood, although annual, is not uniform. When there is drought in the highlands to the south, the flood may be a comparative trickle. However, in years of abundant rainfall in the watershed, the flood can become a torrent, washing everything before it. It is now thought that early populations, which ventured into the valley of the Nile below the First Cataract, were more concerned to build dikes to protect themselves and their herds against this possibility of a destructive flood than to irrigate crops (Atkins 32; Parker, 7-8).
The fact that cattle were important in early Egyptian history brings up another point about the environment in antiquity. In the earliest days of Egyptian development, there was no Sahara Desert. The lands that now form the Sahara enjoyed savanna, rather than desert environments. And as we have already seen, the Saharan peoples had been pioneers of cattle domestication. Until about 2300 BCE, that is well into Pharaonic times, the Lower Nile flowed through an area of rainfall, which supported thriving cattle herding societies.
Not only cattle raising, but also fishing and agriculture have a long history in the Nile valley. The upper Nile, in what is now the country of Sudan, was one of the areas that developed fishing settlements during the long era of the African Aquatic Tradition. Since some of these Late Stone Age communities used grinding stones to process wild grains, which they harvested in the fertile alluvial plains, it seems likely that it was their descendants who became the first full time farmers in this part of Africa. Between 5000 BCE and 4000 BCE farming and cattle keeping replaced hunting and fishing as the main ways of life along the Nile. Of course, people continued to both hunt and fish, but they were becoming economically and socially dependent upon cattle raising and farming.
Picture, if you can, what the Nile valley (of modern-day Egypt) must have been like in the 2,000 years between the early Neolithic and the beginning of the unified kingdom under the pharaoh Narmer/Menes in about 3,000 BCE. Had you traveled the region early in the period, your journey would have taken you along the higher ground of the valley, inland of the river itself, where encampments of cattle herders or small farming settlements would have hosted you. As you traveled the length of the area, both cultural and linguistic differences would have been apparent, with life centering ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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