How did climate change influence the rise of ancient Egypt
Climate change today is seen as something that can bring down our societies and a potential threat to cities and civilization. While that has some truth to it, the fact is climate change is also likely a trigger for how our modern societies arose. In different parts of the world, major complex societies may have been influenced by climatic and various social factors interacting in a complex web of influences. This could have been the case for ancient Egypt as well.
Climate in Egypt Before the Pharaohs
During the early phases of agricultural development in the ancient Near East, Egypt was a society of small-scale hunter gatherers living not only in the Nile valley but also what are today the desert regions of North Africa and the deserts to the east and west of the Nile. At around 8000 BC, the climate had shifted from very dry conditions to much wetter conditions due to the global retreat of the great ice sheets and glaciers. The Sahara Desert, among the driest regions in the world today, was a savannah like environment more similar to the Serengeti than the harsh desert of today. People were able to roam in this region, living on hunting of big game such as elephants and wildebeests. Lakes and open woodlands were also found. The Nile certainly exists but was not only a more lush region and swampy as it was also influenced by summer monsoon rains that are more northerly than they are today. This also made the Mediterranean have more water flow into it, influencing rainfall conditions in Asia. In general, the relatively wet period was a conducive for hunting and gathering in north Africa and Egypt. Farming would have existed mostly in the Middle East, but it would not have been a major economic focus in Egypt between 8000-5000 BC. Domestic animals do appear more at around 6000 BC, including cattle, suggesting herders were also beginning to develop.
Climate and the Nile
By around 5000 BC, the summer monsoons began to stop and northern Africa, and Egypt by extension, began to become more dry. People began to migrate more towards the Nile valley as it became a concentrated area for settlement. Agriculture began to play a more significant role, but hunting and fishing were still important. Parts of the Nile dried up, which meant that some major branches no longer flowed into the Nile. The Nile was becoming more a single, large stream river similar to today with relatively few branches. People did also begin to occupy major oases around Egypt, such as the Dakhala and Farfara. In many ways, this was the onset of the Neolithic in Egypt, as grain likely domesticated in the Near East made its way into the Nile valley. People were still relatively mobile and herding may have made a substantial contribution to diets, similar to the Sahel in Africa today. Between 4400-4000 BC, conditions became more dry and this may have led to increased prominence of grain agriculture, as it became harder to keep larger herds due to the dryness. The Nile now becomes the key area for social development as people are concentrated there. There was an acceleration of migration into the Nile valley during about 4000 BC. From about 4400 BC, a Mediterranean climate is evident, which was characterised by winter rains and almost no summer rains.