May 1, 2012

Characteristics of the Soil in Ancient Egypt and Papyrus in Egypt

Characteristics of the Soil, c. 1200
Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi
There is another characteristic: the soil of Egypt is sandy, which by itself is not good for cultivation, but the waters of the Nile lay out with them, at the rime of the rising of the river, a black mud or silt, adhesive and very greasy, containing plenty of fertiliser, called ibriz (“pure gold”). This comes from the Sudan: mixed with the Nile during flood, the mud precipitates and settles. When the water drains away, the earth is ploughed and cultivated, and every layer there comes to it a new layer of mud. This is why there all the earth is cultivable, nothing is left fallow without cultivation as they do in Iraq and Syria, but they plant different crops in rotation each year.

Egyptian Papyrus
Papyrus, the Paper of Egypt, 1908
Elbert Farman
We started for San at early dawn the next morning with donkeys procured in a neighboring village. It was a ride of only two hours. The country was low and marshy and, at the time of the high Nile, flooded. These marshy lands are mostly unfit for cultivation, but produce tall grasses which are of some value since they constitute the only perennial pasturage in Egypt.

The papyrus, once produced in this section in great abundance, has now entirely disappeared. Like its contemporaries, the crocodile and hippopotamus, it has withdrawn from Egypt to the banks of the Blue and White Nile.

The manufacture of papyrus was for a long period of great importance to Egypt. Commencing early in the reign of the Pharaohs, it continued till the time of the Khalifs. During the Greek and Roman period, Egypt supplied this invaluable article to the whole civilized world and derived from it immense revenues. The rich, wet lands of the Delta, which were once covered with this plant, as with a thicket, are now largely devoted to the culture of rice, indigo and cotton. As a remembrance, we have derived from papyrus our word ‘paper’ and from the Greek form, biblos, our word ‘Bible.’

Papyrus served for many other purposes than that of making the paper on which the ancients wrote. It was used for calking their vessels and for sails and rope. . . . The lower part of the papyrus plant was also used for food.

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