Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Armchair guide to early Predynastic Egypt

Armchair Prehistory (Edward Pegler)

An ultra swift guide to the early Predynastic of Egypt.

The Nile valley is a fine thing. A narrow corridor straddling the great Sahara desert it is, strangely, a perfect place to farm. Until the construction of the Aswan Dam the annual flood’s timing, unlike Iraq’s, made it relatively easy to grow crops on its riverbanks without irrigation.

In history the Nile valley was also (ignoring the relatively minor oases) the major overland lifeline between the Mediterranean and Sub-Saharan Africa. As such it was not just an avenue for communication. It was also a bottleneck along which almost all trade passed between the two areas. Admittedly, much of the good stuff, ivory, gold and slaves, went north. There is little evidence of what went south.

The ancient kingdoms of Egypt and, to the south, Kush controlled much of this trade until the end of the first millennium BC. At this time Arabian and Greek sailors, travelling down the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean and down the East African coast, broke their monopoly. Kush did not last much longer after this although the cities of the Nile delta, Alexandria, Cairo and Fustat, sitting at the head of the Red Sea trade routes to Europe, survived very well indeed.

Bizarrely, although there’s limited evidence of agriculture around the Nile delta around 5000 BC, there is little evidence for agriculture or settlement anywhere along the Nile valley before around 4000 BC (the “Naqada” culture). Compare this with the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, where agriculture started around 8500 BC, four thousand years earlier. Now consider that the two are less than 300 miles apart at their closest points across the Sinai Desert.

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