Nile largely determined the settlement patterns of ancient Egypt;
It was the focal point of everyday life and was pivotal to Egypt's
existence. The Nile was a water source for drinking and domestic
use. The waters are home to a great variety of fish and fowl, which
are all easily netted. The Nile is the main artery of the Egyptian
transport infrastructure. To travel north one would could rely on
the currents to assist your passage. With an open sail one could
be propelled south by the northerly winds. The ease of travel within
the Nile valley allowed communities to be closely linked and facilitated
far-reaching trade. Though the key boon of the Nile is its regular
inundation. The constant aggradation of the valley has produced
a strip of fertility that is in stark contrast to the governing
magnitude of desert. The Nile mud is not just agriculturally prosperous
but they are also a source of building material and clay for pottery.
The high waters of the Nile inundation allowed easier carriage of
heavier goods by river. Royal building projects used the finest
stone available that often involved using quarries far away from
the intended site. Expeditions would be sent to quarries to retrieve
materials such as pink granite from Aswan, and then transport masses
of stone along the Nile (and often across desert terrain) on a flotilla
land was not the most suitable venue for permanent human occupation.
For a settlement to have an all year round existence it had to be
above the high levels of the 'Akhet' season. Most favourable land
was found near the river edge, on the levees. Levees are formed
from the dual process of riverbed erosion and sediment load deposition,
and are usually ½ - 4 times the channel width in diameter. These
higher lying pieces of land provide protection from the inundation
and are also readily found across the flood plain as a result of
the former courses of the Nile. Also found on the flood plain are
higher parts of lands called Gezira's (from the Arabic for Island).
These eroded gravel islands are remnants of the Pliocene and vary
enormously in height and size (c.4-15 metres high).
not all examples of settlement are confined within the Nile valley
or the delta. Occasionally the need to be close to the Nile would
not be the overriding factor regarding a settlement location. During
the 19th dynasty Ramesses II sought to protect his country from
the threat of foreign groups that were merging to the west of the
Nile delta. Starting within the delta he erected a string of fortresses
along the Mediterranean coastline that reached as far as the modern
day village of Zawiyet Umm el-Rackham (200 miles west of Alexandria).
These fortresses were most likely built as a response to threatening
Libyan groups migrating eastwards towards the Nile. Any advancing
parties of foreigners would have been deprived of taking rest at
wells and springs and would have to contend with the Egyptian military.
A similar New Kingdom defensive arrangement is found along the north
coast of the Sinai heading towards the lands of ancient Canaan .The
decision for these interesting constructions away from the Nile
stems from military objectives and makes interesting archaeology
away from the usual confines.
settlement pattern of ancient Egypt was largely determined by access
to resources, with the distribution of the settlements closely reflecting
the shape of the favourable land. The combination of the desert
periphery and the Nile allowed a highly civilised culture to flourish
successfully for thousands of years. The relative ease of the agrarian
life allowed for greater hours away from the fields and thus provided
a pool of labour for the building projects of the Pharaoh.
(Ashley Elsdon Cooke)