I. Introduction Agriculture and food production are quite literally the skills that feed a civilization. Old Kingdom Egypt excelled in this area. Egypt's high success in agriculture was due to many things, ranging from a near constant climate, to the Nile and its annual inundations causing the land to be inexhaustible, to Egypt's vast amount of other natural resources. This paper will only give a general overview of the more popular resources yielded by agriculture and food production in Old Kingdom Egypt.
The Nile is of particular importance, as it was the source of life in Egypt. Egypt's crop fields are the product of the fertile kama t soil. Egypt's primary concern was on cereal crops that's yields had various functions. Egypt's marshlands provided Egypt with plants that could provide oil as well as building materials.
It was also a source of a wide range of species of fish. Animal husbandry was particularly important in Old Kingdom Egypt, especially when dealing with cows. Cattle were a source of milk, of meat, and of prize animals. Both practically and religiously functional, the cow had a special place in Old Kingdom Culture.
As previously stated, one cannot look at agriculture in Egypt without first examining the source of life, the Nile River. II. The Nile The Nile waters made farming and food production possible in Egypt. These waters provided the minerals, humidity, and irrigation that the Egyptians needed to grow their fields, as well as the drinking water necessary for animals. Literally speaking, the Nile made life possible in Egypt. The Nile tended to follow a constant cycle of flooding and receding.
This pattern was particularly important for Egyptian agriculture. II. A) Inundation Inundation was a process pivotal to the success of an Egyptian's field crop. Inundation was the annual flooding of the Nile. It was caused by rainfall in "Central Africa and melting snow in the Ethiopian highlands." The Inundation could be both a harbinger of wealth or death. If the inundation was too low, there was famine, if the inundation was too high, there was destruction of land and property.
An inundation of seven to eight metre's was the ideal. The inundation was very important because it was the vehicle which brought minerals, and thus fertility to the Egyptian soil. As the waters gathered and grew high, more minerals would be picked up. As the waters flooded onto the lands, the minerals would settle on the bottom, and when the water withdrew, the minerals would be left behind. The area that was rich with these minerals was referred to as 'ke met'. Agriculture depended on the inundation in order to be a success.
Inundation governed the seasons of agriculture. There were essentially three seasons, there was inundation which begin in July with the slow rising of water levels and ran through October, going down of inundation, which started in November as the water levels were falling and lasted until February, and drought which happened in March when water levels were the lowest. Inundation also regulated the taxes in Old Kingdom Egypt. Government officials would keep watch up the level of water in order to determine the amount of applicable taxes, one of the ways to do this was through the use of Nilometers.
Nilometers were a form of a well that was used to measure the height of the water. These contraptions could also be used to predict the beginning of the inundation. The Nile's flooding did not always reach land that was being cultivated; likewise, towns and villages did not want to partake in this deluge. As a result, a form of irrigation had to be developed to control and utilize the waters of the Nile.
The Nile was such a regular river that it influenced the Egyptian's concept of stability, truth, order, justice, all that is good in the world ma " at. The Nile was the source of life in such a harsh land. Without the Nile, life would not have been possible within Egypt. II. B) Irrigation Irrigation was utilized in the Old Kingdom for various functions, from blocking flood waters to utilizing the waters. There were three main forms of irrigation techniques used: The first was the building dykes to protect towns and gardens.
Gardens were not large scale crops, and were generally in the possession of the upper classes. The flood waters had the potential to destroy these gardens, as well as towns and villages, and so dykes were constructed to divert and block the waters from these lands. Secondly, there was the use of basins and sinking wells. These were used to hold water. Often basins and sinking wells were used to draw water to irrigate small crop fields. One way to gather water from the basin was to use a shaduf.
A shaduf was a "well-sweep with a counterpoise." The shaduf was an effective system only for small gardens due to the fact that it could only draw small portions of water at a time. The last type of irrigation technique was the digging of canals and ditches. Generally, this was in order to draw water into the basin and sinking wells. Despite the indications of the use of irrigation, such as the old Nome administrative title of "canal digger", most crops were grown and ripened without watering. The irrigation systems in the Old Kingdom also show a level of 'agricultural technology'.
The Egyptians learned how to draw water away from places that they did not want it to go, and learned how to draw it to where their crops needed to be water. In some instances, such as those dealing with a shaduf, the Egyptians learned how to draw the river 'upwards'. Similarly, the technology surrounding irrigation further highlights the importance of the Nile to the life of the Egyptians, and the Egyptians understanding, and utilizing of that fact. The Nile was a necessity for life in Egypt. It provided the water and minerals required to support al system of agriculture. Without the Nile and its inundation, growing field crops would have been virtually impossible.
III. Field Crops III. A) Types of Field Crops Although Egyptians grew various types of crops, their main concern centred upon the resources for making bread. Bread could be used for various purposes.
The dough could be used to fatten livestock, it could be fermented to make beer, or it could be eaten for sustenance. The more popular type's crops grown in the Old Kingdom were emmer, barley, and winter wheat. III. B) Instruments and Procedures Once the inundation had receded, it was time for the Egyptian farmers to plough the fields.
The Old Kingdom Egyptians used a large plough, it had a long wooden plough share with two handles, and was fastened to the horns of one, or a group of oxen. The plough required a pair of men in order to be used properly. One man had to push down on the plough and drive it into the group, while the other man had to guide and drive the oxen. When this initial plough was done, a secondary plough was required before the seed could be sown; this was often done with a smaller wooden hoe. When this was done, farmers spread the seed across the field, then would use a herd of sheep to beat the seeds into the dry mud soil. When the harvest came, the farmers used a short sickle to reap the fields.
Often women and children would assist in this procedure. The reaped yield was cut and bound, and prepared to be carried by donkey to the "threshing floor." Egyptians had developed a technology to plough their land efficiently, their ingenuity is greatly highlighted by the fact that they used sheep to trample their seed into the ground. A job that could have taken a group of many people several hours was reduced a relatively fast process of a group of two men driving sheep. III. C) Produce As previously stated, the cereal crops the Egyptians grew could be utilized to make a variety of different products. Bread dough could be fed to livestock to fatten the animal, barley bread could be fermented for beer, and bread could be made as sustenance.
III. C. i) Method of Preparation When the harvest arrived at the "threshing floor" it was (as the name implies) spread across the floor. A group of donkeys or oxen were driven in circles around the room to crush the grain. In the case of donkeys, a team of 10 would have to be used, in the case of oxen, only three were necessary. Once it was felt that the grains had been adequately pressed the team of livestock, the farmers or workers would reappear and separate the straw and grain by forking.
In this process they would use a tool similar to a pitchfork to lift up the longer straws, which were more likely to get caught in the tools, while the grains would fall to the floor. Once this was complete, the workers would move on to separating the chaff and the grain by a method of winnowing. Winnowing consists of a tool that is similar to a scoop being thrust with a sweeping motion into the air. The chaff will fall in a different direction than the grains, as the grains are heavier. This is the last separation the worker must perform in order to obtain the finished product, the grain. Yet again, the Egyptians are utilizing livestock to accelerate their process of food production.
Likewise, there are further example of technology being created in relation to food production such as the thresh, and the winnowing 'scoop'. Not only did the Egyptians have a system of technology in their agriculture, but also a system of administration. Once the grain was separated and organized it would be surveyed by the administrative scribes to apply taxes. III. C. ii) Officials/Taxation In many ways the system of agriculture in Old Kingdom Egypt was similar to that of feudal Europe.
The farm estate was held by a rich, and higher ranking individual, while semi-free peasant serfs worked the land. Ideally, since all land belonged to the ruler, various government officials were involved in the harvest. There was a number of titles given to administrators who worked with the harvest, examples are: "Prince of Agriculture", "Scribe of the House of Food", "Deputy Agricultural Judge", "Scribe of the Corn", etc. Most administrators were assigned to particular estates or cities, and each had a different job. The Scribe of the Corn, for example, kept track of how many seeds were used when sowing the fields. The Scribe would take note of each time the workers had to refill their sowing bags.
Throughout the process of agriculture, scribes were constantly surveying the use and yield of resources. It was said about taxes, "When the corn began to turn yellow the peasant apprehensively watched the invasion of his fields by his natural enemies... a swarm of scribes, surveyors, servants... Their first task was to measure the field; their second to reckon the number of grains to the bushel. These two operations enabled them to calculate... the taxes the peasant would have to pay to either...
the Treasury or to... gods... ." This was seen as necessary in order to apply legal taxes; however the workers were allowed to take as much produce as they could yield in a day at the end of the harvest service in return for their work. Despite the heavy burden of taxes on the hard working farmer, their labours were slightly repaid.
IV. Marshlands Marshlands surrounded many areas of the Nile. Marshlands became the sites of hunting and fishing exhibitions, as well as locations where herdsmen would drive there cattle. Marshlands were particularly important to Egypt because they yielded three main resources: Flax, which yielded oil, papyrus, which had multiple uses ranging from writing material to bird cages, and fish, the food of the common Egyptian person. IV. A) Flax and Papyrus Flax was a plant that grew within Egypt that could be used for many purposes.
Flax could be used for both oil and linen. Flax was a tall plant that if to be harvested corrected, had to be picked while still in flower. In the sense of food production, flax oil was used in Egyptian cooking. Other uses included ointments, medicine, and lamp oil. The other plant, Papyrus, was not used for food production, but it was grown in agriculture and did play an important role in Egyptian culture. Papyrus was a plant that grew in marshy areas.
It is best known in relation to Egyptians because it was used as paper. Old Kingdom Egyptians had many wide uses for this tough and fibrous plant; papyrus could be used as a building material, it could be used to make ropes, mats, seats, and bird cages. Papyrus was a very useful plant within the Old Kingdom culture. Although it was not food, it was grown and used for various industries. IV. B) Fish/Fishing It is believed that fish were only eaten by the lower classes in the Old Kingdom.
Although wall scenes of fishing exhibitions abound, there are very few scenes that contain fish in relation to sacrifices, or nourishment. The name fish in Egyptian was 'but', which actually meant forbidden, impure and taboo. It is believed by some that dried fish was eaten by those of a lower status, and it is certain from scenes that the marsh dwellers did eat fish. Many fish appeared on hunting scenes on walls, and from these archaeologists have been able to determine what fish were particularly popular. Similar to the field crop industry, the fishing industry had to develop its own forms of technology. There were many different types of fishing devices used during the Old Kingdom; there is evidence of fish spears, harpoons, fish hooks, weirs, basket traps, hand nets, and seine nets.
These implements and tools show the Egyptians ingenuity in food production. They developed simple tools like spears and fish hooks, to more complex tools like basket traps. There must have been some kind of demand for fish in the Old Kingdom, despite the taboo attached to it. It can be assumed skilled fishing tools would not have been created simply for leisure fishing, no solely to fuel a marsh dwellers diet. These tools show that there was mostly likely a reasonably sized fish industry in the Old Kingdom. Fish were not the only kinds of animals consumed.
In fact, the Old Kingdom had a vast range of animal husbandry. V. Animal Husbandry In Old Kingdom Egypt, animal husbandry was the second most popular form of agriculture. Not all animals were raised sole for nutritional purposes; some were intended for sacrifices or ritual. The Egyptians kept a wide range of animals; donkeys, sheep, pigs, goats, oxen, birds, geese, and most importantly cattle. Cattle were such a prominent and important animal in the Old Kingdom that a special type of 'farmer' came into being, the herdsman or the marsh dweller.
Different methods were sought to raise cattle, and different cults appeared to revere them. V. A) Birds and Geese During the Old Kingdom, bird and geese were not bred in captivity; they were caught in the marsh lands by employment of a net, and returned the estate of the master to be kept. These animals were primarily used for their meat. Geese were of the more popular kind of bird kept.
Geese were forced to eat raw dough in order to fatten, the same method was used on cattle. V. B) Cattle Cattle were one of the more prized animals in the Old Kingdom. Various wall scenes from the Old Kingdom picture the loving treatment of cattle. Cows were kept primarily for milk and breeding purposes. V.
B. i) Feeding The methods of feeding cattle varied depending on the intended use of the cow. Most cows were taken to the marsh lands by herdsmen in order to graze. The dry land of Egypt, when the Nile was in drought, was not enough to sustain cattle; the marshes were full of various types of vegetation, such as the latter mentioned flax and papyrus, and were more than enough to sustain a herd of cattle. Cows that were kept as pets, or for sacrificial purposes were fattened by the owner. This was down through a process of force feeding the animal balls of raw bread dough.
From wall pictures, the process has been described, "We continually see the herdsmen 'beating the dough', and making it into rolls; they then squat down before the ruminating oxen and push the dough from the side into their mouths, admonishing them to 'eat then'." Although this method seems cruel and inhuman from a present day perspective, in the time of the Old Kingdom it was considered a responsible and loving act expected of a good herdsmen. V. B. ii) Herdsmen The herdsmen were a particular class of serfs or workers in the Old Kingdom whose primary job it was to look after the cattle. Herdsmen would go into the marshes and swamps and live with the grazing cattle for months.
While in the swamps, the Herdsmen would also catch fish and birds to bring home to the master or property owner. Herdsmen were particularly looked down upon in the Old Kingdom, it is said that a 'true' Egyptian would barely regard him as an equal. Herdsmen were often portrayed in wall paintings as thin, unhealthy looking men, with wild hair, out of fashion, imitation loin clothes, and a generally dirty appearance. Although they were a necessity to the culture, they were not highly regarded, and in fact, treated quite poorly. The Herdsmen had no homes; they lived with their cattle and had portable reed huts. They would return to the estate of their master, generally once a year, to pay homage, and to have taxes calculated by scribes in proportion of the number of cows and calves.
The life of a Herdsman was a lonely one, although often men would gather together, the Herdsman was isolated from the world, and his only true company was that of his cows. V. B. iii) Breeding By the time of the Old Kingdom, the Egyptians had become proficient in the breeding of various types of cows. The main breed of Egyptian oxen was the zebu, and the Egyptians used this prototype to create many different varieties. The most popular offshoot of the zebu were the long horns, characterised by their long reaching, slightly curved horns, and general completely white pelt.
In addition to these, the Egyptians also bred short horned varieties, and hornless varieties of cattle. What modifications the Egyptians could not genetically create in their animals, they did so artificially, such as bending on horn perpendicular to the body. The ability to breed these different types of cows shows yet again that the Old Kingdom had an understanding of this process. Likewise, it once again characterizes that Egyptians had developed particular procedures in order to obtain a wanted outcome, such as breeding cow A with cow B to obtain cow C with no horns. However, the modifications of the cows seem to be more aesthetic than practical, causing one to question what the cultural significance of cows in the Old Kingdom.
V. B. iv) Importance of Cows to Old Kingdom Egypt as a cultural resource. During the Old Kingdom, cows had an important cultural importance to Egyptians. Many cows were raised not for food or milk, but for sacrificial ceremonies, or as pets. The Old Kingdom had two rather large cow cult centres in Memphis and Heliopolis.
The Memphis cult paid homage to the Apis bull; where as the Heliopolis cult paid homage to the M nevis bull. One of the reasons cows and bulls were popular was because many of the Egyptian gods were portrayed by these animals, such as Hathor. The cows of the latter mentioned cults were so important and revered that in ceremonies the bulls were mummified. For example, "The Apis bulls of Memphis were buried in a vast catacomb in the Samarra necropolis known as the Serapeum.
The mummification of these animals, only one of which existed at any one time, was performed thoroughly... The bull mummies were finally buried in huge stone sarcophagi." The bulls were so highly revered that during the Old Kingdom they were embalmers who were masters at dealing with the bodies of these animals. The cows were raised particularly to be housed and sacrificed in these rituals. Cows were highly loved amongst the Egyptians, and the cow cults of the Old Kingdom only further highlight this fact. VI. Conclusion The agricultural and food production industry in the Old Kingdom was dependent on the work of the common people or serfs.
Often they were overburdened with their work, under paid and over taxed. The Egyptians were very serious about their agricultural industry, from ploughing crops, to catching fish, to fattening cows; the Egyptians came up with different technologies (tools and methods) for each. The Egyptians main sustenance came from the cereal crops that grew, and they employed these grains for various functions and products. The cow was a loved and revered animal in Egypt. Due to its special necessities, such as grazing in the swamp lands, a particular class of men, the herdsmen, was developed. The cow was of such importance to Egyptian culture, that there are various examples of cow cults found in the Old Kingdom.
Egypt was a thriving agricultural civilization during the Old Kingdom; however, one must keep in mind that none of this would have been possible without the Nile River. The Nile was the source of all life in Egypt. It provided the minerals, humidity and water for the field crops, it provided the grazing grounds for the cattle, it was an area that yielded various species of fish and birds, and it was the source of life. Bibliography Brewer, Douglas O. and Renee F. Friedman.
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Ancient Egypt: A Cultural Topography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961 Final Word Count: 3, 732 (not including footnotes text).