University of Cambridge

Three Thousand Plus Years of Environmental Sustainability within Ancient Egypt

Three Thousand Plus Years of Environmental Sustainability within Ancient Egypt







            The ancient Egyptians have long been hailed for having a stable civilization that reigned with little change to its customs or population for thousands of years (Hughes, 1992 p.12). The civilizations that span Egypt ca. 3500 BCE through 332 BCE as a whole particularly exemplifies an ancient adjustment of a people to their environment (Gemmill, 1928 p.296). In this paper I will broadly examine the environmental aspects of ancient Egypt, such as the predominant feature of its terrain known as the Nile River and the methods by which the Egyptian people were able to sustainably harness it’s energy for so many millennia; The massive Nile being predominantly the single most important resource of ancient Egypt by providing its abundance of natural resources and, through its cultivation, the recreational as well as necessary goods that likely heavily influenced the culture’s long-term success. I also briefly examine Egypt’s fundamental Fungis, Flora, and Metazoa (Animalia), as well as these biological kingdoms importance within the society’s physical needs to religious rituals. The conglomeration of information here has been gathered by means of secondary research by analysis of journal articles and books, with intentions of more fully understanding as well as illustrating the landscape of ancient Egypt and how these populations interacted with and ultimately altered their surrounding ecology.



            Egypt is a vast term of peoples, cultures, and civilizations spanning some 6,000 years, with its Prehistory dating to a time known as the Taso-Badarian period as far back as Circa 6000BP (ca. 4000 BCE). The earliest official Dynasties in Egypt that obtained large-scale agricultural efforts and government begins in the 1st Dynasty which is dated ca. 5000BP (3000 BCE). The Dynasties which establish ancient Egyptian culture reigned from those earlier times of ca. 5000BP until their official end appears on the timeline with Alexander’s conquering and the start of the Graeco-Roman periods of Egypt ca. 332 BCE. Therefore, typically the term “ancient Egypt” strictly entails the dynastic periods of about a 3,000 year timespan between ca. 5000BP and 2000BP (ca. 3000 BCE – 0(332)BCE) (Kitchen, 1991 p.206). And while this paper is not bound to these particular dates of Egypt, the overall focus is to examine this vast era of Egypt’s lush history in order to provide a better and clearer understanding of how such a large population was sustained for so many centuries.

            Ancient Egyptian archaeological sites are physically located within Egypt’s current geographical location, which is positioned at the North-Eastern tip of Africa at and near the junction of Asia and Africa (Ahmed 2014). Egypt is part of the grand Sahara desert (Ahmed 2014). The well-known Sahara is almost complete desert and encompasses the northern third of the continent of African including ancient Egypt. “Turning to the northeast corner of the (African) continent, we find the desert belt broken by the fertile Nile Valley, which extends throughout the length of Modern Egypt (Gemmill, 1928 p.296).” The river itself divides Egypt into the Eastern part consisting of the Sinai Peninsula and the Easter Desert, while the western section of Egypt comprises the Libyan Desert (Ahmed 2014). The Nile’s delta lies at the North, and although it is Northern on a map, this land is called Lower Egypt, while the Southern region of the Nile basin (south of the alluvial fan) is termed Upper Egypt (Ahmed 2014). These areas near the Nile River Delta in Egypt only receive about 1.5 inches of annual rainfall with other areas of Egypt having even less to almost no rainfall at all. This lack of rainfall is largely due to the northeast trade winds which take up but do not redeposit moisture, the principal environmental feature that produces the Sahara desert which Egypt is consumed by (Gemmill, 1928). Therefore, both in Upper and in Lower Egypt of the Sahara, the only fertile land to hold enough nutrients and moisture suitable for growing crops was soil in which the annual Nile River floods brought life to (Hughes, 1992 p.13). Ancient Egypt has been referred to as the Gift of the Nile (Hughes, 1992 p.14).


            It is said that the yearly Nile flood has historically been the most important event to happen in all Egypt (Rolfe, 1917 p.158). The ancient Egyptians relied heavily on the waters that were received by the Nile floods, and the Nile annually flooded its banks at nearly the same time each year which brought vital water and much needed nutrients to the crop soil, before subsiding again until the next year (Hughes, 1992 p.13). “The natural regime (of the Nile River) provided the environmental insulation necessary for a sustainable society” that lasted over 3,000 years (Hughes, 1992 p.14). This was due not only to the abundance of pure water that the Nile floods have historically supplied, but another just as important aspect was the deposition of fertile alluvial soil (alluvium) which contained phosphorus as well as vast amounts of other minerals and nutrient-rich organic debris (Hughes, 1992 p.13) largely made up of tiny rock fragments and vegetable matter (Rolfe, 1917 p.160) that were washed down from mountain tops and swampy regions located deeper to the south (Hughes, 1992 p.13) in the Abyssinian highlands (Ethiopia); head of two out of three river systems which feed into the Nile River of Egypt. One of these river systems is called the Blue Nile, which is responsible for about four-sevenths of the Nile’s annual flow, and the other river system from the Abyssinian Highlands is the Atbara (Atbarah) river which feeds the Nile approx. one-seventh of its waters. The remaining two-sevenths the of the Nile waters in Egypt are brought there by the White Nile (Garretson, 1960 p.137)river which comes from the great lakes of Central Africa (near the region of Lake Victoria) (Aguado, 1982 p.109). Those are the three main river systems that combined to form the great Nile River flow in the Nile Valley of Egypt (Hughes, 1992 p.13). The deep southern land in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) is extremely rugged with mountains and peaks rising to heights of ten to fifteen thousand feet above sea-level; as a consequence, the extreme run-off of excessive annual rains is very rapid and cause the driest gullies below to suddenly transform into “beds of surging torrents” (Rolfe, 1917 p.159). It was therefore the rainwater of the Abyssian highlands to the South that rapidly flow downhill and head North through Egypt creating the majority of the Nile River flood waters which brought moisture to what would have otherwise been a dry and arid desert wasteland (Rolfe, 1917 p.158).

            The rise of the annual floodwaters beings in early June. This increase in water levels gradually continues until it reaches a static level around late September. After remaining stationary for about a 3-4 week period, the rise continues until the maximum water level is reached approximately in early November (Rolfe, 1917 p.158). After reaching a level of about 25′ higher than times of low water, the river flooding then steadily subsides from November until the end of March, by which time the fields have dried (Rolfe, 1917 p.167). “As soon as the water recedes it is possible for the laborer to walk across the soil, dropping seeds as he goes, without destroying its tilth (state of soil aggregation) (Rolfe, 1917 p.160).” Therefore, March, April, May, and Early June were reserved for the harvesting and planting of crops (Rolfe, 1917 p.167).


            Often implements weren’t needed at all for preparing soil, and a crude wooden hoe would be the only tool that ancient Egyptians would have used for tilling soil, until the plow was later introduced. An ancient Egyptian hoe was typically composed of two wooden strips, “one slightly curved, held together by a cord.” The plow: “simply a larger wooden hoe, drawn by men or oxen (Rolfe, 1917 p.160).” Without the use of intensive dryland farming techniques, sustained agriculture requires approx. 20 inches minimum of annual precipitation unless water is received by other means, generally being the use of artificial irrigation (Gemmill, 1928 p.297). And since ancient Egypt received little to no rain (Gemmill, 1928 p.297), reliance on the Nile River appeared to add to the farmers relationship to the land in addition to their long-established farming traditions which held the ideas that “hoeing, properly done, was an act of veneration of the Earth-god” (Hughes, 1992 p.16).

            Similar to American countries “most irrigation works were supervised by local officials” in small administrative units. It seems that there were governmental units which oversaw more localized work efforts to dig the ditches and build dams, dikes, and basins for properly directing Nile floods through farmlands (Hughes, 1992 p.17). Agriculture in more modern times has made little progress in its methods since these ancient eras, resulting in farming peasants of today leading very similar lives to those serfs whom historically worked the farms of in Egypt (Gemmill, 1928 p.296). Cultivation activities such as these are “considered to be part of a holy occupation” in the times of ancient Egypt (Hughes, 1992 p.17).

           The Floods that the Nile River brought, while reliable, were not always consistent. That is to say that variations in flooding heights, velocity, and deposition were common. More recent studies (1870 through 1941) of the annual Nile River flooding habits indicated that a series of high flooding seems to last several years or decades and is then abruptly transitioned into extensive years of low flooding (Herbert R. Jose, M. 1979 p.1178).

           Times of extreme high flooding for this ancient civilization would have been devastating, as accounts depict all of the Temples in Thebes (Waset) of ancient Egypt to be like wet marshes from flood waters (Rolfe, 1917 p.164). A dangerously high annual flood of the Nile could ultimately wash away constructed buildings such as storage facilities and housing development even on the scale of entire villages (Hughes, 1992 p.13). A high flood might also take longer for its waters to subside, this would cause a delay in the harvest and planting. Accounts of some instances indicate the annual flood waters already rising again by the time that harvesters could finish gathering their crops (Rolfe, 1917 p.167). An inscription from the Tomb of Paheri (18th Dynasty) apparently depicts an overseer represented “as calling to the laborers who are carrying wheat to the threshing-floor: “Hasten ye, quicken your feet; the (Nile) water is coming and will soon reach your baskets (Rolfe, 1917 p.167).”

           The Niles ability to carry rich mineral sediment is dependent upon the rivers velocity. Therefore, low floods also meant slower waters would bring less organic debris resulting in lower deposits of silt that would normally be used to benefit the upcoming crops (Rolfe, 1917 p.165). Extreme low flood waters could fail to fertilize the land and the necessary crops with vital sediment deposits (Hughes, 1992 p.13).

           There was however a labor-intensive alternative for bringing water to the fields of crops which low flood waters had failed to nourish. This alternative would have required the manual use of a shaduf. The “shaduf” is “a leather bucket suspended from one end of a long pole mounted as a sweep” (See Figure 1 below) (Rolfe, 1917 p.164). The bucket was dipped into low waters and filled, then a weight on the opposite end of the pole would be lowered to easily lift the water-filled bucket. Because of the shadufs limited capabilities of transporting water with a single unit the devices would in times be lined in succession of two, three, or even four shadufs, all in concession, “one above the other, in order to reach the level of the field (Rolfe, 1917 p.164).” In the areas surrounding shadufs, because of their close radius to the Nile water’s edge, fruits and vegetables were cultivated, as well as large quantities of papyrus raised in the Nile Delta for the use of paper and other objects or materials (Rolfe, 1917 p.168).


           Regardless of the levels of flooding, farming boundary guidelines were destroyed by the Nile floods annually which ultimately resulted in a remeasuring of lands each year through a formed legal land-code and by using rope or cord with knots as measuring intervals (Rolfe, 1917 p.164).

            The physical environment including the Nile of ancient Egypt appears to have been extremely intertwined with the social and economic life of the people whom lived there (Gemmill, 1928 p.295). To them, the land was considered to be sacred “and all its aspects were gods . . . The annual cycle of flood, planting, harvest, and fallow was expressed as his (god Osiris’) birth, growth, death, dismemberment, burial, and resurrection, so that every stage of the agricultural year repeated an event in the life of Osiris” (Hughes, 1992 p.15). And while the practice of agriculture was highly revered and even considered to be holy, is also posed certain environmental dangers to ecological sustainability that included practices which ultimately led to agricultural “overdevelopment and habitat destruction” (Hughes, 1992 p.18). Overuse of land and irrigation-dependency on farming land can lead to the accumulation of salts in the soil through excessive water evaporation and cause what is termed salinization. In extreme situations of salinization, no plants are able to grow in these environments (Hughes, 1992 p.18).


            The current knowledge of grasses that thrived in ancient Egypt comes here mainly from journals on archaeobotanical (Paleoethnobotany) research conducted from material recovered at archaeological sites (See Figure 2 below) (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.507). The results from these materials indicated that farms in ancient Egypt likely planted fields of barley and wheat in the irrigated fields while livestock animals grazed in nearby river grasslands during the months of low waters (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 pp.507-508). Some records indicate that earliest farming villages were flourishing in the Nile Valley as early as ca. 7300 – 6000 BP (ca. 5300-4000 BCE) (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 pp.507-508), though the ancient Egyptians didn’t appear to have an established government or environmental policies until ca. 5000 BP (Hughes, 1992 p.12) the beginning of the 1st Dynasty. The farms from ancient times are now buried beneath deep layers of residue such as gravel and sand which were deposited there from annual Nile flooding over thousands of years (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 pp.507-508).

Sites in Egypt

            The grasses of ancient Egypt thrived in a variety of habitats which include arid desert wadis (stream channels), desert plains, mountainous regions, coastal sand dunes and salt marshes. Agricultural production itself predominantly took place within the Nile Valley region as well as in desert oases wetlands, natural lakes or streams, water springs and swamplands (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.507).Among the species of flora in ancient Egypt there have been documented to be at least “288 species of grasses, of which 44 are cultivated cereals, fodder plants, and medicinal herbs (or ointments) with Gramineae being the “largest family of flowering plants in the Flore of Egypt” (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.507).

            Some of the most prevailing grassland vegetation included members of the Panicum turgidum Grass species (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.508). A variety of weeds have been identified from ancient sites. Some of the excavated plant remains include residue of weed families such as members of the Digitaria sp., Echinochloa colona, Setaria sp., Brachiaria sp., Urochloa sp. and other Paniceae species (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.507).

            There were several types of wheat and barley being farmed in ancient Egypt such as six-rowed barley and two-rowed barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) as well as several strains of cereal wheat for pastas and breads (Triticum durum Desf and T. aestivum L.) (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.507). Evidence has shown that emmer wheat was grown for not only its use in breads, but also to make alcoholic beer drinks (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.508). “Wheat and barley were the chief products of the field. They were gathered by reapers who cut the stalks with wooden sickles and bound them in sheaves. Sometimes the sheaves were carried directly to granaries (Rolfe, 1917 pp.167-188).” Unlike many modern granaries that are rounded, some granaries of a ancient Egypt were squared: a “free-standing structure, entered via a single door. It has a courtyard and, along the back wall, the main storage area, consisting of bins with moveable hatches. Each was meant to contain a different kind of grain” (See Figure 3 below) (British Museum, 2014). At other times the grains were first removed from the chaff (threshed) by the use of oxen treading the wheat followed by tossing the crushed wheat in the air with shovels in order to blow the chaff from the grain (winnowing) (Rolfe, 1917 p.167).


            For the ancient Egyptians, grasses were not only used as staple ingredients of food and drink, but grasses also  played a major role in ancient Egypt’s everyday industrial objects, artwork, building materials, and other activities (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.509). Daily items and objects for common people and royalty such as sandals worn on the feet, baskets for holding food and other objects, as well as ropes and nets for activities such as fishing are amongst a few items that incorporated the use of grasses (such as Desmostachya bipinnata and Imperata cylindrica) and reeds (Phragmites australis, Arundo donax L. and Saccharum spontaneum L.) into their designs (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.509). Arrow shafts were made with the use of culms (stalks) of reed plants and the arrowheads have been found to be made of bone. Reed cases that were made to carry arrowheads have also been found (Lucas, 1938 p.199). Beds in the form of sleeping mats were created using their leaves (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.509). Brooms for cleaning, hairbrushes for grooming, and pens for writing are just a few among many other objects that the ancient Egyptians created using parts of cultivated wheat-grasses and reeds (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.507).


            Poisoning in ancient Egypt would have sometimes occurred as a result of a snake bite or the sting of a scorpion (Lucas, 1938 p.198). However, several plants and fungi containing poisonous and/or psychotropic compounds are thought to grow wild in the environments of Egypt at the present day and are thought to have done since the earliest times. Two of the known psychotropics consist of “several species from Datura, including Datura stramonium (thorn-apple), and several species of Hyoscyamus, including Hyoscyamus muticus (Egyptian henbane), both of which contain the (poisonous/psychotropic) alkaloids hyoscyamine, hyoscine, and atropine” (Lucas, 1938). “An early relationship between humans and psychoactive plants (or fungi), often within a highly ritualized, ceremonial context has been suggested by a number of authors” (Merlin, 2003).  Other drug-like medical substance are alleged to be in ancient Egypt with evidence pertaining to depictions on Pharaonic Tomb walls of “the lotuses Nymphaeaalba and Nymphaeacaerulea which contain the psychoactive alkoloid apomorphine . . . (and) Lactucaverosa , a substitute for opium with mild hypnotic effects” (Berlant, 2005).

            If this type of relationship did exist between plant/fungi and ritual and/or ceremony it would likely have been conducted covertly; as Ethnopharmacological records recall an ancient Egyptian passage regarding such things which was translated from the Book of The Dead (funerary text depicted on tomb walls ca. 1550 through 50 BCE):

“And you shall perform these ceremonies secretly . . .

. . .

Let no stranger anywhere have knowledge of it.

Do not speak about it to any man. Do not repeat it.

Let no [other] eye see it. Let no [other] ear hear it.

Let no one see it except [thyself] and him who taught [it to thee].

Let not the multitude [know of it] except thyself and the beloved friend of thy heart”

(Berlant, 2005)

            It is notable that there are also publications claiming biochemical findings of nicotine (metabolites such as cotinine) cocaine alkaloids, and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and/or their metabolites were significantly present (Franz, P. Nerlich, A. p.381) in mummy tissue samples with said 14C-dating to be in the ancient era of 950B.C. (Franz, P. Nerlich, A. p.380). Conjecture of these three substances being found in such conditions has been made and the findings are currently scrutinized with questions regarding the validity of the testing methods, possible causation of such results, and implications to which this could entail if validated. Therefore, these particular claims of nicotine, THC, and cocaine within mummy tissue does then however seem require further investigation (Bjorn, L.O. 1993). It is nonethless accepted that until recent times, the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) was actively cultivated in Egypt. This opium yields several alkaloids, the principal of which is morphine. The opium poppy is very common in North Africa and Opium poppy plant has been referred to on papyrus records as being a medicine (Lucas, 1938 p.199). Known species of psychotropic containing Psilocybe fungi have been found in Africa and include species such as P. mairei species (Guzman, 2012 p.83). In conjunction, it is reported that “In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Papyrus of Ani . . . mushrooms are called “the food of the gods,” or “celestial food” and “the flesh of the gods” (Ahmed 2014 p.124). Comprehensive compilations of fungi within Egypt are seemingly unavailable or incomplete and some fungal groups, such as black yeasts, have little if any formal data collection at all. There is however fungi which have been documented to historically or currently thrive within the boundaries of Egypt. This small portion of the actual total includes over 750 genus of fungi (Ahmed 2014 p.124).


            Some livestock and herd animals of ancient Egypt include the likes of goats, swine, oxen, donkeys, and cattle (Rolfe, 1917 p.167). The earliest domesticated cattle in North Africa are dated to 4,000 BCE and are thought to have been genetically and anatomically outbred or eliminated to the point of bearing little resemblance with the modern cattle species (Grigson, 1991). Grazing livestock animals, such as cattle, were domesticated and tended to with great care. The 18th Dynasty Tomb of Paheri is even though to show depictions in artwork of what is thought to be the actual performance of formal Cattle branding.

            During the dry seasons the animal herds were taken to graze nearer the Nile Valley where they would be provided access to constructed sheds and fresh grazing yards. This would last until the annual high floods began to rise again at which time the livestock were then taken back to the higher lands (Rolfe, 1917 p.167) where they may have then fed on fodder (livestock feed) that was specifically grown by ancient Egyptian laborers from specific grasses intentionally cultivated for use as animal feed (Boulos, L. Fahmy, A. 2007 p.507). This would last until the floods annually subsided again and revealed fresh rapidly growing vegetation suitable for sustaining the grazing herds again (Rolfe, 1917 p.167).

            Burnt cow dung from Africa dating to the Iron Age (1200-550 BC), which was chemically sealed through charring, revealed that 29 out of 36 samples tested contained the spores of mushrooms (fungi). The spores may have been transported through the cattle’s grazing and then by surviving the breakdown of the cattle’s digestion (Carrión, J. Scott, L. 2000 p.239,248). These naturally implanted spores would provide one excellent sources of cattle-waste decomposition. However, these mushrooms were competing as dung-decomposers with another popular species in ancient Egypt, the Dung Beetles (such as Kheper aegyptiorum (Latreille), and Scrababaeus Sacer L) which are respectively referred to as sacred scarab (Ward, 1994. P.188)  (Ratcliffe, 2006 p.86). These beetles are attracted to a variety of food types, “but several species appeared to specialize on either dung or mushrooms” (Hill 1996) Many beetles actually utilizes the dung from cattle not only for obtaining their nutrition, but also specifically for nidification (nest-building) (Ward, 1994. P.187).

            Scarab beetles became extremely prominent motifs in ancient Egyptian figurines, amulets, jewelry, artwork, and religion. The image of the scarab is one of the most common objects which are found in excavation sites of ancient Egypt and have been located at every single areachological site in the region of Egypt. The earliest of these excavated scarab objects, which is a “small alabaster (limestone) case in the shape of a scarab”, has been dated to ca. 5,000BP (ca. 3,000 BCE) (Ratfliffe, 2006 p.86). By ca. 2200 BCE images of scarabs were being carved from almost any type of stone available, sometimes the objects were glazed or they have even been made with precious metals (Ward, 1994 p.187-190). The dung beetle has wings with which it could fly, and the beetle has been described as “a bird, the size of a partridge egg” (Thompson, 1890). However, its wings on its body were often kept encased until they would be unsheathed during flight (with limited flight capabilities) (see cover image), and the beetles would seldom use this ability over crawling. Images of the sacred scarab are also depicted throughout the artwork of Royal Tomb walls and religious texts (See Figure 4 below). The scarab was associated with the god Khepri (Ward, 1994 p.187-190), and the bull was also seen as sacred with the practice of sacred bull embalming beginning as early as ca. 3300BP. The symbiotic relationship between dung beetles and cattle did not go unnoticed in artwork or funerary rights. For example; the mummified Apis bulls would traditionally be marked on the tongue with an image of a sacred scarab beetle (Domick, 1958 p.183,189).

Scarab Mirror from Tut's tomb


            Although not as common in cultural expression, there were many other natural disposers of waste and decay within ancient Egypt, and being a large civilization with high volumes of production, consumption and waste, the ancient Egyptian civilization inevitably produced large volumes of debris with some potentially hazardous or even toxic materials. A number of trash debris did come in forms that would not necessarily produce immediate health hazards to the populations. ‘Heavy industries’ such as quarrying or mining produced large quantities of rubble and stone chippings, but these industries were undertaken in remote areas outside of any major township far from centers of large populations (Dixon, 1989 p.193). Other sanitary waste resulted from more localized production activities such as the manufacturing of pottery, wood-work, glass production, weaving, dying, and sculpting (Dixon, 1989 p.193). However, the waste of unclean debris through foods and meats produced by massive amounts of individuals from densely populated cities seems to far outweigh the health hazards of the uniformed industries (Dixon, 1989 p.193).

            In addition to the Scarab beetle, many other members of the Animal kingdom in ancient Egypt were, by their very nature, disposers of local wastes. These animals successfully integrated themselves into the sustainability methods of the civilization itself (Dixon, 1989 p.194). Some of these animal members include scavenging birds such as the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) whom were essential in removing organic debris from rotting trash-heaps and decaying carcasses. Other birds such as the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) the Ibis bird (Threskiornis aethiopicus), the Black Kite (falcon) (Milvus migrans), and the Lappet-faced Vulture (Aegypius tracheliotus) were also invaluable scavengers which assisted in the breakdown of ancient Egyptian waste and ultimately contributed to the societies overall sanitation and therefor health (Dixon, 1989 p.195). Crows (genus Corvus) are currently found in Egypt at present day and it is presumed that they also thrived and scavenged in Egypt during the ancient periods (Dixon, 1989 p.196).

            Some animals that were not aerial, but that are thought to have scavenged through and assisted in the breakdown of ancient Egyptian’s waste include a “number of ferocious, semi-wild dogs, which scavenged in every available place” (Dixon, 1989 p.194). In addition to the dogs, Jackals and hyenas were other wild scavenging animals in ancient Egypt. It is also said that the famous Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) assisted in the cleanup of some corpses that were not provided an alternative burial (Dixon, 1989 p.195).


            The environments of Egypt were undoubtedly dramatically altered by the people of its civilization with many natural habitats being destroyed through agricultural projects and the wildlife itself being hunted and killed as game or for trophy (Hughes, 1992 p.20). Although about 90% of the land in ancient Egypt was covered in desert, waters in the Nile Valley had originally supported forests of fig trees, evergreens, acacia, jujube, and other flora until agricultural clearing ultimately caused their destruction (Hughes, 1992 p.18).  And while some animals are thought to have had their habitats destroyed by massive cultivation efforts, many species of animals in ancient Egypt remained, and still remain, in abundance. By the end of the pharaonic eras of ancient Egypt the land was massively altered by the civilization but still remained productive and full of life (Hughes, 1992 p.18). An example of this can be exemplified in the only one species of duck which breeds in Egypt today, as opposed to the 14 species that thrived in the ancient times of Egypt. Even though duck populations have decreased in the region, other birds do remain in abundance, especially the waterfowl (Hughes, 1992 p.20).


            After thoroughly investigating the ecology of ancient Egypt, it is clear that the Nile river geographical feature itself is one of the most notable aspects regarding not only as an environmental feature of ancient Egypt but also as a cornerstone in which the entire civilization thrived in harmony with for thousands of years. It also ought to still be considered that many creatures of the land were held in such high esteems as being sanctified even as manifestations of deity (Hughes, 1992 p.20). Some animals were held to be so divine that selected ones would be cared for within temple precincts eventually to be mummified and given honorable burials. “Tens of thousands of these (animal) mummies have been found in special vaults” (Hughes, 1992 p.20). It is apparent that the environment of ancient Egypt must have largely influenced the structure of government and economy of the society, as well as the ancient Egyptians religious views and daily lifestyles. This can be summed up by concluding that the stability of the Egyptian civilization resulted from these ancient people’s persistence and resilience to maintain sustainability within their ecological systems (Hughes, 1992 p.12).





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Ratcliffe, Brett C.

“Scarab Beetles in Human Culture”

Coleopterists Society Monographs. Patricia Vaurie Series, No. 5, Scarabaeoidea in the 21st Century: A Festschrift Honoring Henry F. Howden (Dec., 2006), pp. 85-101

Published by: The Coleopterists Society

Article Stable URL:


Riehl, Herbert and Meitín, José

“Discharge of the Nile River: A Barometer of Short-Period Climate Variation”

Science, New Series, Vol. 206, No. 4423 (Dec. 7, 1979), pp. 1178

Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Article Stable URL:


Rolfe, Deette

“Environmental Influences in the Agriculture of Ancient Egypt”

The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Apr., 1917), pp. 160

Published by: The University of Chicago Press

Article Stable URL:


Thompson, D’Arcy W. Junr.

The Classical Review, Vol. 4, No. 7 (Jul., 1890), p. 320

Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association

Article Stable URL:


Ward, William A.

“Beetles in Stone: The Egyptian Scarab”

The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Dec., 1994), pp. 186-202

Published by: The American Schools of Oriental Research

Article DOI: 10.2307/3210428

Article Stable URL:




Cover Image. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Lure of Ancient Egypt | Current Traveling Works of Art | The Met Around the World

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2012-2014

Description: Winged scarab amulet. Circa 1070–945 B.C. Egypt

Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915 (30.8.1082a-c)

URL accessed 16 Nov. 2014:


Figure 1. Irrigation Museum

Shaduf in Sudan – Agricultural Irrigation

Irrigation Association (2014)

URL accessed November 9, 2014.


Figure 2. Grasses in Ancient Egypt

Loutfy Boulos and Ahmed Gamal-El-Din Fahmy

Kew Bulletin, Vol. 62, No. 3 (2007), pp. 508

Published by: Springer on behalf of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Article Stable URL:


Figure 3. British Museum

Painted Wooden Model of a Granary

Trustees of the British Museum

URL accessed November 12, 2014:


Figure 4. National Geographic Society

Inside Geographic: Traveling Treasures

National Geographic Magazine (1996-2014)

URL accesed 16 Nov. 2014:




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