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Farming in ancient Egypt

Between March and June, the cereal crop is ready to harvest. Farmworkers cut off the ears (which contain the grain) using...Read More >>Between March and June, the cereal crop is ready to harvest. Farmworkers cut off the ears (which contain the grain) using sickles, leaving the lower stalks to be pulled up later. The ears are carried in baskets to circular threshing-floors where cattle trample over the crop to separate the grain from the stalks. Now the workers winnow the grain, tossing it into the air so that the pieces of chaff, the husks, are blown away. The grain is then taken away for storage or grinding into flour. Each summer, rains further upstream caused the River Nile to overflow its banks in Egypt, laying down a fresh layer of rich, fertile earth across the floodplain on both banks of the river. To the ancient Egyptians this miraculous, yet predictable, event allowed them to grow crops and raise animals. Were it not for the River Nile, Egypt, a land where it very rarely rains, would be a parched, empty desert, with farming impossible. From about 5000 BC, farming villages sprang up along the Nile and, with such a bountiful food supply, the people prospered. Towns and cities were founded, some people became skilled craftworkers—and the great civilization of Egypt took hold.

Fertile, lush fields along the Nile

Fertile soils

The Nile flooded between July and October each year, spreading tons of mud and silt across its floodplain. A network of irrigation channels that farmers dug in the ground spread the floodwaters of the Nile across the fields of the valley. As soon as the floods retreated in October, farmers used their ploughs to turn the mud into the soil before sowing their seeds. The Egyptians called the floodplain the kemet, the "black land", after the dark colour of its fertile soil.

A farmer ploughs the newly-flooded soil with his team of oxen.If the floods failed to occur, few crops grew, the animals died and many people starved. Farming was hard work, and not without its dangers. Crocodiles in the river often preyed on unwary cattle—and sometimes people too.

The Egyptians divided the year into three seasons: akhet (flooding), peret (planting) and shemu (harvesting).

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