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The consequences of ever-changing temperature and rainfall cycles on the landscape and habitats. Evidence points to large-scale movement of cities in response to the effects of climate cycles notably, inundations of sand, encroachment of the desert, the silting up of the Delta and separation of north and south Egypt.
The inhabitants of the Nile valley have learnt to live and adapt to a changing river system. Island formations gave renewed hope and new opportunities for a population anxious for the encroaching desert in an increasingly unwelcoming environment. Authorities understood how dependent settlements were on the Nile and, in their endeavours to follow its meandering path, abandoning once flourishing cities and towns.
By the New Kingdom, Egypt had restored its rightful position as the dominant and unified power in the region whose influence extended beyond previous boundaries into the Sudan to the south and the Levant in the north. Evidence found in Luxor (the location of the ancient capital Thebes), writings and wall reliefs point to a civilisation benefiting from climate amelioration, island formations, and increased rainfall.
The Nile story ends for now in modern times, with the continued adaption of modern Egyptians to their ever-changing landscape. To an extent, the Aswan High Dam has controlled the Nile, breaking the flood cycle and bringing stability to most Egyptians, enabling the city to expand and sprawl out across the Nile Valley without fear of deluge or lack of water for crops. However, in doing so, the fertile sediments and nutrient-rich silts that followed the retreat of the floods are no more. One thing is for sure, the resourceful Egyptians will always adapt to these challenges and innovate, in the same way that their forebears did.
My enthusiasm for the Nile began as an eager postgraduate many years ago and has grown over countless excursions and excavations in Egypt. Observation of the geology of the landscape naturally led me to wonder what part humans have played in the river’s life over millennia or, perhaps more accurately, the role of the Nile in defining the progress and development of the peoples who lived by and depended upon it.
During the New Kingdom, the development of new irrigation and water distribution strategies coupled with a beneficent climate brought the Nile to heel. Management of the Nile had developed but the sheer extent and complexity of tributary management during the Roman occupation enabled unprecedented growth and development of the empire, with advancements seen in grain production, mining technologies and canal building.
The end of the ‘Golden Age’ of Egyptian civilisation in the First Intermediate Period heralded a disastrous new era for the Kingdom as it struggled to survive in its new hostile environment. Grasslands retreated, the Nile dried up and the sand moved in, putting stresses on the population, devolving power to new regional powers and seeing the rise of the Nomarchs. But how quickly did all this happen and is all as it seems?
Life in early Holocene Sahara is discussed against the backdrop of global temperature fluctuations and rising (and lowering) sea levels. This chapter provides evidence for the effects this had on the developments of ancient communities as well as the movement of settlements to follow high water levels.
The effects of the last ice age on the Nile were dramatic, providing the geological origins of the land that we now call Egypt. How did ancient Egypt lay bare her secrets and how do we know so much – from the birth of Egyptology and its achievements in the deciphering of the hieroglyphs to advancements in dating techniques.
The formation and development of the delta area and its distributaries provided a nutrient-rich habitat that became strategically significant to settlers whilst attracting feudal foreign powers who attempted to use the area to control trade and military efforts. Signifying the start of a new ‘golden’ era, the delta and its channels became home to the capital of a unified Egypt as well as various trading posts and ports.
The Nile continued to exert its considerable influence over Egypt’s capital during Coptic and Islamic times, with evidence of migrating centres that followed the meandering sweep of the river. Modern Cairo today still bares the scars of its battle with the mighty river for control of its waters, adapting to floodplain rise and migrating meanders in ever-more innovative and creative ways.