ANCIENT EGYPT INUNDATION

May 13, 2010

ANCIENT EGYPT  INUNDATION 

Each year, spring rains and melting snows in the Ethiopian highlands poured into the Blue Nile, carrying huge quantities of volcanic silt (fine particles of earth) and decaying vegetation. These “green waters,” saturated with minerals and organic material, started to reach Egypt by June.

A month later, a wave of muddy water, enriched with silt and red earth, poured into the Nile from the Blue Nile and the Atbara. It washed over the valley floor, depositing millions of tons of mineral-laden silt, potash, and organic materials.


The waters continued rising until mid-September, then gradually receded. In October, the waters rose again briefly, then receded until spring. By the end of May, the Nile was at its lowest level of the year, and the land was dry and cracked.
This annual flood—called the inundation—was treasured and feared. It brought life and fertility; Egypt’s civilization would have been impossible without it. But it could also bring trouble—from temporary inconvenience to major catastrophe.

When the inundation arrived on time and was neither too high nor too low, planting and harvesting went smoothly. If the inundation arrived earlier or later than usual, crop yields might be dangerously low.
And a low Nile or a high Nile could spell disaster. With a low Nile, the floodwaters did not reach some of the farmlands. These lands could not be planted—there was no way to get enough water to them. A single low
Nile year caused some problems, but stored grain usually came to the rescue. A series of low Niles could bring widespread famine.
In a high Nile, floodwaters swept away homes, villages, herds, dams, and canals. Thousands of people drowned or were left homeless.
The Egyptians worshiped the vital inundation as Hapi, a chubby god with a papyrus plant growing from his head. They held festivals to honor Hapi at the site of modern Gebel el-Silsila, near Elephantine, where they believed the inundation arose, and sang a hymn to Hapi: “When he appears, the land jubilates, everybody rejoices.” Modern Egyptians honor this tradition by throwing flowers into the river each summer at Awru el-Nil, a national holiday that celebrates the inundation.

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