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Just deserts? (terrible title, I know :D )

 
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isisinacrisis
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2004 12:07 am    Post subject: Just deserts? (terrible title, I know :D ) Reply with quote

(Bad pun aside Laughing the subject of this is more serious. I'm not sure if any of you know much about climate change, but here goes...long post, I know...)

Is it true that ancient Egypt was not the desert land that we think it was, but much greener?

I always imagined ancient Egypt to be the desert land of sand dunes and unforgiving heat, with only the Nile to provide life and fertility, like today, but I was aware that there was a time when the Sahara was greener and lusher, like a savanna, but that was waaaaaaay before dynastic times.
But this woman at the british museum told me that even in the time of the pharaohs, Egypt wasn't as arid as it is now, because they were able to hunt lions and leopards in the desert, so it might have been more like east Africa.
I asked her if this was so, why were they so dependant on the nile floods, and it was simply because like now it hardly rained and the Nile was the most reliable water source, and banks were more fertile (I think it's because of the soil) or something like that, but she still said that there were desert winds and sandstorms so there must have been some kind of desert, but she then told me that egypt only truly became a proper desert, like what you see today, by the Roman period. (She even said that there was global warming during the medieval times, but I'm doubtful of that...)
I was reminded of what I was told at the museum when i saw this programme tonight saying that during the old kingdom, Egypt was much greener than it is now (at least it was in the Aswan area, not sure about further north) but I always thought the 'green Sahara' period was in prehistoric times, about 4000BC or something.
And yet all the Egyptian texts talk of the harsh desert in contrast to the nile valley, the red and black lands, the land of Seth and so on...I'm confused!
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anneke
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2004 1:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's true that there were elephants and they hunted lions during the pharaonic times, but as I understand it the "wet period" was much earlier.

Thutmosis IV dug the Sphinx out of the sand, so that must have been a somewhat desert like area.
It's possible that the climate was slightly more humid than it is today, but I doubt that is was so much different.

If Egypt was much greener, wouldn't that be depicted in some tomb or temple?

It's true that even in the 18th dynasty (ca 1300 BC) the royals seemed to be rather fond of gardens. Hatshepsut had trees planted in front of her Deir-el-Bahari temple, Amenhotep III and Akhenaten had nice gardens around their palaces. I don't really know what the exact weather is like now, and if it would be hard to create and maintain such gardens at the present.
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2004 3:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There's plentiful evidence that the Eastern and Western Deserts were much more like a savannah, but you're both right...it was a very long time ago, quite predynastic.

The petroglyphs of the Eastern Desert in particular hint at the fauna that used to populate the region. The common consensus (at least as I understand it) is that people first started venturing into what is now Egyptian desert around 12,000 BCE exactly because of the wild game teeming on those long-gone savannah plains. There is occasionally found the remains of very ancient villages far out into what is now barren desert but was obviously once fertile savannah. Famous ancient river channels like the Wadi Hammamat were obviously once carved by a very rain-swollen Nile, above and beyond the increase of the yearly inundation.

It is believed that the region was drying out in earnest, though, only as recently as some 5000-plus years ago. At that time the rain belt was quickly moving south (for geolocial-climatological reasons I once read about but did not absorb adequately to elaborate on). So by Early Dynastic times the Egyptian climate may have been somewhat damper but the desert was already fast on its way to complete victory.
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isisinacrisis
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2004 4:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's what i thought. But what they said on TV yesterday was that there was a water channel/well/tributary in the south of Egypt that has now dried out. Maybe it was like an old oasis or something.

The gardens-weren't they also irrigated by the Nile? They must have had some channels that brought river water to the palaces.

But I agree that the savanna period was a long time before the dynastic times. I've heard theories saying that the first Egyptians came from the people who lived in the sahara during the wetter times, and had to retreat to the Nile when the desert encroached on the land. (we have threads on this elsewhere on the forum) I've heard that it desertified very quickly too-in the space of 200 years or something...
I posted here about the 'black mummy of Libya' programme I watched, and there they showed the murals in the desert with elephants, crocodiles and giraffes.

As for the cause of this climate change...I don't know. Probably related to ice ages or something. Some programme I watched mentioned an earth axis wobble or something, but I'm not sure if it's the same wobble that causes precession or something else. I used to study geography...but the only things we learned about climate was about global warming caused by pollution. But we did learn about desertification, but only man made desertification caused by overgrazing and overuse of land combined with global warming. The Sahara drying out event was too big to be merely man made.
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2004 1:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

We know the Nile has snaked this way and that and changed its course of travel numerous times in the last 5000 years. Many 5th Dynasty pyramids and sun temples, for instance, seem strangely out in the middle of nowhere--in barren desert--but some 4400 years ago the Nile used to pass much closer to them. The Egyptians knew and understood the nature of their beloved river, and they dug extensive networks of irrigation canals to bring the water to their fields and temples. They used simple devices such as the shaduf to bring water into smaller irrigation channels.

As further evidence of a once wetter climate, there are the enigmatic ruins of the pre-dynastic village we today call Nabta Playa. This site was discovered only several years ago and is located about 60 miles west of Abu Simbel. Is this perhaps what you were referring to in your mention of "a water channel/well/tributary in the south of Egypt"? This site is between 6000 and 6500 years old and, though now arid desert, once contained a lake that nurtured the life of the village. Fascinating, isn't it, what they find way out in the barren wastelands of sand these days?

Your description of desertification (I hadn't heard of that term before) clicked in my head when I read it. I believe the irregular wobble of the earth's axis did indeed have something to do with the rapid development of the desert and the southward movement of the rain belt.
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2004 1:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

We know the Nile has snaked this way and that and changed its course of travel numerous times in the last 5000 years. Many 5th Dynasty pyramids and sun temples, for instance, seem strangely out in the middle of nowhere--in barren desert--but some 4400 years ago the Nile used to pass much closer to them. The Egyptians knew and understood the nature of their beloved river, and they dug extensive networks of irrigation canals to bring the water to their fields and temples. They used simple devices such as the shaduf to bring water into smaller irrigation channels.

As further evidence of a once wetter climate, there are the enigmatic ruins of the pre-dynastic village we today call Nabta Playa. This site was discovered only several years ago and is located about 60 miles west of Abu Simbel. Is this perhaps what you were referring to in your mention of "a water channel/well/tributary in the south of Egypt"? This site is between 6000 and 6500 years old and, though now arid desert, once contained a lake that nurtured the life of the village. Fascinating, isn't it, what they find way out in the barren wastelands of sand these days?

Your description of desertification (I hadn't heard of that term before) clicked in my head when I read it. I believe the irregular wobble of the earth's axis did indeed have something to do with the rapid development of the desert and the southward movement of the rain belt.
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isisinacrisis
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2004 10:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I always thought precession (the wobbling earth axis-a regular and very slow 26000 year cycle) only affected the position of the stars in the sky, not the climate. But it would have changed the times of the seasons. Unless it was another different kind of earth wobble.

Talking of stars and precession, is Nabta Playa the site of the stone circle? There's a stone circle in Egypt that lines up with the solstice sunrise (like stonehenge) and possibly even Orion's belt and the circumpolar stars. I think it was called Nabta or something.
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Aktisanes
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2004 2:44 pm    Post subject: Desserts Reply with quote

Not only Egypt but the whole of the middle east was green in old days.
Even in the time of Ramses II he passed with his whole army through the Lebanese woods to fight the Hittites at Kadesh.
And these were huge woods filled with cedar trees.
The national flag of lebanon is stil a cedar tree because of their huge woods.
But as always, people chopped down all their income and now there are no trees left anymore, just dessert.

Jean
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kmt_sesh
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2004 11:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Isisinacrisis, I can't say anything more about the earth-axis wobble than what I wrote. I'm no climatologist. But I should think that even a small shift of the earth's rotation could have drastic effects on some parts of our world.

You're up on your pre-dynastic stuff. Nabta Playa is precisely the site of the stone circle. As the site was only recently discovered there remains much to learn about it, but it's fascinating evidence of how ancient communities thrived way out in what is now barren lifeless desert. And to think that a lake once existed there shows how drastically the landscape changed as desert developed, but that's hardly the only such place in Egypt to have witnessed such profound changes. The large lake of the Faiyum, for instance, is known to have been more than twice as large just several thousand years ago--it had been drying up throughout the civilization of the ancient Egyptians.

And Aktisanes, you bring up an interesting topic about the Lebanese forests. You're probably familiar with ancient Byblos of Syria, whose inhabitants harvested that Lebanese cedar largely for export to Egypt. Byblos remained one of Egypt's closest trading partners and allies for thousands of years (leaders of Byblos, for example, would sometimes depict their names in Egyptian hieroglyphs in their own inscriptions).

Pardon my ignorance, Aktisanes, but I must confess that I know much more about the ancient Middle East than the modern Middle East. Are those vast cedar forests really all gone now?
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Aktisanes
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 10:47 am    Post subject: Forrests Reply with quote

Yep the're all gone, only one left in their flag Smile
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