Farming in Egypt
The following is a brief essay on development of farming in Ancient Egypt.
Egypt was, of all early civilization, in the best position to develop a great civilization. Each year the "Gift of the Nile" would be a flood brought on by monsoon rains in central Africa.. These floods brought only a thin layer of silt from both a jungle area and also a mountainous area. The White Nile brought highly mineralized silt which would be eroded from Abyssssinian Alps 1500 miles inland in Central Africa. Monsoon winds off the Indian Ocean would cause very heavy thunderstorms in this region, which would cause erosion. (2F) The silt from the Blue Nile was heavy with humus from the jungle and swampy sources. These two sources brought Egypt in a thin annual layer of silt about 1/20" a year. Irrigation ditches were easy to maintain because the silt did not clog the ditches. Humus was good for supplying organic material, which helped crops in Egypt immensely. (pg. 29) (2F)
Not only did the flood bring silt, the soil would be soft and easy to plow. They would plant and harvest in early spring and then allow the fields to lay until July when the floods would come again. (10F) In addition, the Egyptians invented the water wheel which later allowed them to grow two crops a year that doubled their agricultural output. They also developed a Shaduf, (pictured below) to put water into their irrigation canals. As a result of the large surplus of crops, Egyptians were able to specialize and develop a great and complex society. One author suggests, "No ancient people raised the art of farming to a higher level than did the Egyptians - nor did any enjoy or appreciate the harvest more." (115) (6F) In fact, "Egyptians are believed to have had at least 15 kinds of bread some of it sweetened with honey. And beer was the country's national drink; it was often carried to the field in clay jugs as a thirst quencher." (pg.122) (5F)
Like all other natural things the flood was unpredictable at times and the amount of flooding was very important. Too much flooding and the crops would be planted late which would adversely affect them. To little flooding and not enough area would be fertilized with the silt, which would mean poor crops in those areas if they were even planted at all. (10F)
Because of the irregularity of flooding Egyptians needed a organized government to institute large-scale dikes and irrigation systems, which would be required to support a large civilization. Menes in 3400 BC was first to do so. (10F) This control paid off for the Egyptians who developed at strong and long lasting civilization.
In addition to their agricultural base, Egypt had another large advantage, that of geography. Egypt was geography isolated by deserts, mountains and seas which allowed their crops to grow undisturbed by outside forces for a great majority of their history. This isolation is also attested by the lack of any indigenous African crops being found in their tombs.