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The 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 of ships.

Low-lying 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 - 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).

However 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.

The 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)

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