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In order to understand the history of ancient Egypt, you must first understand Egypt's geography. It will help explain why the early Egyptians knew their river was important. Ancient Egypt flourished for nearly 3,000 years in the Nile River Valley.
People began to move into the Nile River Valley after 10,000 B.C., during the New Stone Age. By 4500 B.C., many small villages dotted the Valley. Ancient people were drawn to the Nile River Valley because it was a small ribbon of fertile land in the North African desert. Land that is good for farming is called fertile. The Nile River Valley owes it fertility to the great river that flows through it.
The Nile River is the longest river in the world. It flows north from the mountains of East Africa to empty into the Mediterranean Sea. In ancient times, as it is today, the Nile River was an important part of life in Egypt. Egypt is a large country, but most of it is a sandy desert. Without the Nile River, which brings valuable moisture to the dry land, all of Egypt would be desert. There is something else you should understand about ancient Egypt.
The Nile River brought life to the desert in a very important way. Year after years, the Nile River overflowed its banks every rainy season of East Africa, where the Nile River has its source. Thus the ancient Egyptians knew when the yearly floods would arrive. In fact, the people of ancient Egypt looked forward to the summer floods. How could this be so? Floods often wash away important minerals needed for farming. The overflow of the Nile, however, was unique. The Nile flood waters carried silt. Silt is made up of clay and bits of black soil and rock. It has minerals that make soil rich and therefore good for farming. On its way north from East Africa, the rushing Nile picked up silt. In Egypt, as the flood waters spread out and soaked deep into the earth, silt was left behind on the ground. Over thousands of years the silt that was left behind built up a ribbon of rich, fertile soil running through the desert. In some places the ribbon of fertile land was very narrow. In parts of Upper Egypt, for example, it was only 1 mile (1.6 km) wide. The rest of the land was desert. But in Lower Egypt, more land was good for farming. In some places the fertile strip was more than 100 miles (160 km) wide.
Where the Nile River emptied into the Mediterranean Sea, the silt created a delta. A delta is land made by deposits of silt, sand, and small stones at the mouth of a river. It is a triangle-shaped area of marshy land.
Ancient Egyptians compared their land to the lotus flower. The delta, or Lower Egypt, was the spreading blossom. Upper Egypt was the long thin stalk that fed the blossom.
Farming was the basis for economy of ancient Egypt. The economy of a country is its use of workers and resources to produce goods. Ancient Egypt's economy was based largley on crops of wheat and other grains.
The Nile River Valley was the richest farming land in the ancient world. Farming there, however, took careful planning. Egyptian farmers worked together and planned their work around the seasonal flooding. They planted their crops in October, aftet the flood waters were gone. One farmer used a wooden plow led by a pair of oxen. This helped break up the soil and prepare it for planting. Another farmer would follow the plow and throw seeds. Later, pigs and goatswere let loose to trample seeds into the soil. Finally, other farmers smoothed the ground with wooden rakes.
The crops were harvested in the spring. In earliest times, the ancient Egyptians used tools made of flint to cut the wheat. By 2800 B.C. the Egyptians had learned to make stronger tools from bronze. People worked together in the fields with their bronze tools. Everyone was needed to gather the crops before the floods came.
One of the greatest accomplishments of early people was the development of irrigation. Irrigation is the watering of dry land by means of streams, canals, or pipes. Irrigation helps farmers grow more crops, thus building a stronger farm economy.
The ancieny Egyptians learned very early how to irrigate their fields. By 6000 B.C. they were making storage pools to catch some of the Nile's overflow. In this way they could store water for their crops. They could also bring water to land that was not reached by the Nile's overflow.
The ancient Egyptians had easy ways moving water across the dry land. The water might be carried to the fields in skin bags or it could be channeled through canals. Dams were built to trap and store some of the floodwaters. By irrigating dry lands, ancient Egyptians were able to increase their food supply.
Throughout Egyptian history, the Nile River helped unite the villages along its banks. The need to build canals and dams for irrigation made it essential for the people of each village to cooperate. Farming, however, was only one way people were brought together by the Nile River.