How the Nile River Works

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Circa 1900: The pyramids at Giza on the banks of the River Nile, built by the ancient Egyptians to house the bodies of their pharaohs.

The water that had been collected in the canals and basins during the inundation period was enough to supply nourishment for the crops for the next year. Crops were harvested in June before the return of the floods. The cycle somewhat reliably repeated every year, although it sometimes produced more water than needed, which had negative effects on the crops.

The Niles Impact on Ancient Egypt

Although the ancient Egyptian society eventually collapsed, the Nile continued to flow. Eventually, Great Britain took control of the Nile basin late in the 19th century, although it later relinquished control inAfricain the 1950s and 1960s.

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Although m­osthistoriansand geographers find it difficult to agree on many aspects of the Nile, including its length and source, virtually everyone acknowledges thatAncient Egyptcould never have existed without the great body ofwaterEgypt, known to many as the home of theGreat Pyramids, theGreat Sphinxand other marvels of the ancient world, isnt ideally located for advanced civilization. Other than the Nile, Egypt is surrounded by tons of sand, which isnt exactly conducive to agriculture and other cornerstones of civilization. Fortunately for the Egyptians, they knew just how to finesse the Nile and its capabilities to turn what would appear to be a barren wasteland into a thriving empire.

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The rise and fall of the Niles life-giving waters inspired the ancient Egyptians to view it as a cycle of death and rebirth. The Egyptians experienced so much success cultivating the Nile that the area became densely populated. Because of this, Egyptian society evolved rapidly developing its own systems of record keeping, accounting and writing (hieroglyphics).

The Nile was not just an agricultural boon for Egypt — it also was the countrys most important roadway, serving as the main thoroughfare to encourage travel and communication capabilities. This function helped to connect outlying portions of Egypt to the capital, enabling trade and communication.

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In the early 1900s, several dams were built in southern Egypt in an effort to control the sometimes overzealous flooding. While the dams were able to control the floods to a manageable level, they also decreased the amount of sediment deposits, drastically reducing the fertility of the area. Fortunately for Egyptian farmers,fertilizersare commonplace and they use them to offset the change in land fertility. The system allowed Egyptian farmers to grow a variety of crops, including staples such as wheat and barley. In addition to irrigating the crops and fertilizing the soil, the Niles inundation period also supplied much-needed drinking water.

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A consistent freak act of nature allowed the Egyptians to harness the capabilities of the Nile River. While the majority of Egypt was and still is covered with the aforementioned sand, theriverbasin next to the Nile boasts wildlife and fertile soils. This is all due to the predictable rise and fall of the Niles water levels each year, known asinundation(rise) andrelinquishment(fall). During the inundation period, which takes place sometime around July, water would rise and fill canals made by Egyptian laborers. Sometime around the end of October, the river would begin to recede, leaving rich silt deposits.

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