The Agricultural Practices of the Ancient Egyptians
The Agricultural Practices of the Ancient Egyptians: j 2.1
The Farming System
Tools and technology
Cycle of cultivation
Source of labour
From the beginning, it was clear to see that agriculture held a tremendous amount of importance to the people of ancient Egypt. Silverman (1998:66) even goes so far as to state that “The continuity and resilience of Egyptian civilization was primarily a result of its agricultural economy”. In addition, James (1985:112) attests that the Egyptians’ efficient management of their land could be seen as one of their greatest achievements. The following essay will hence serve to provide greater insight into the agricultural practices of the Ancient Egyptians.
~ THE FARMING SYSTEM ~
With every annual flood of the Nile, a fresh layer of silt was deposited over the land, and this built up the rich fertile soil of the river floodplain. With these annual blankets of silt and water, Quirke & Spencer (1992:16) maintain that nature irrigated the valley for the Egyptians. According to Silverman (1998:60), the Egyptians took advantage of natural depressions in the floodplain, which formed flood basins. Brewer & Teeter (1999:25) supplement this statement by verifying that when the floods subsided, the waters were trapped behind in the natural basins. The basins constituted an immense natural reservoir that could hold water in reserve for six to eight weeks. In this sense, Egypt’s irrigation system was more a means of redistributing and rationing floodwaters (Brewer & Teeter 1999:25). Water was then allowed to flow from one basin to another following the slope of the land, while artificial channels carried water to the farthest area if the flood was low (Silverman 1998:60). Moreover, Caminos (1997:8) describes how sluices and canals regulated the course and volume of the flow In addition, Quirke & Spencer (1992:16) explain how over the millennia, canals and dykes would have slowly modified local agriculture in two other respects: by increasing the cultivable area and by fostering second or third crops within a year in small select plots. The Egyptians therefore did not use any tools for irrigation until the New Kingdom, when a method for lifting water was devised known in Arabic as a shaduf (Silverman 1998:60). This piece of technology was a counterweighted device for lifting water out of the Nile and emptying it into irrigation trenches, and Quirke & Spencer (1992:16) confirm that the following advance in irrigation technology came in Ptolemaic times with the waterwheel. This innovation was called saqiya in Arabic, and was worked by oxen rotating a wheel, that then drew up vases of water from river to the field level (Quirke & Spencer 1992:16).
Tools and Technology
According to Strouhal (1992:95), the Egyptians made do with a small range of simple tools when tilling the land, but claims that the most indispensable tool was the hoe, used for loosening the soil. Caminos (1997:6) illustrates how this tool consisted of a broad, thin piece of wood – which was the blade – tied to the end...
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