The Egyptian Civilization formed along the Nile river and the earliest traces of human life in that region are from the Paleolithic Age, (Old Stone Age), about 300, 000 B. C. , at the very edges of the Nile Valley. Beyond, on both sides of the river the land was and still is desert.
At that time the people moved from place to place, ate berries, roots, and any animals they could find, but stood close to their lifeline, the Nile. The lands along the Nile were rich enough to be farmed, so over time the people started to grow crops. They found ways to store the yearly floodwaters and then use them for the dry seasons. The farmers learned to lift water out of the Nile or wells and send it across the fields through a system of canals.
In order for all of this to work out they had to work together, no one could do any of it alone. So as the farmers and people began to cooperate, an organization began to grow. They found leaders among them who directed the work. A form of government developed and due to that they soon began to build cities, to manufacture things, in time to trade with their neighbors.
That is how it all started. Over a period from 3100 B. C. to 332 B. C. they grew in culture, arts, religion, science, medicine, and many other fields.
The early Egyptian people grew food by the Nile and lived mainly by hunting for meat, fishing, and gathering wild plants. They kept a small number of cattle, sheep, or goats, and grew a few crops. Their crops were flax, barley, and a primitive kind of wheat called ’emmer.’ They got the sheep and goats from the middle east, and their crops too. Farming provided most of the food and helped their population grow.
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Later on in time, the basic diet of the ordinary people was bread and beer. The wealthier ones ate more meat and drank wine instead of beer. The most common clothes women wore were tunic dresses. Those were made by folding a rectangle of cloth in half, sewing it up at the sides, leaving holes for the arms, and cutting a key hole for the head. Some had sleeves and some were sleeveless. This looks very different from the tomb paintings where women are shown wearing skintight transparent dresses with no underclothes.
I guess they wanted the art more attractive. Men usually wore loin-cloths and short kilts. Much of the people’s clothes were made of linen because for the mostly hot weather they needed light, loose, and easily washed clothes. Linen was perfect for that.
Children went naked whenever it was warm enough. At about the age of 10 they started to wear the same kind of tunics or kilts as their parents. Egyptian doctors were the most famous in the ancient world. Today some scholars call them “the first real doctors.” The people who were doctors were often priests as well. They were trained in the temple medical schools. Their medicine was a mixture of science, religion, and magic.
In many kingdoms all over the Mediterranean if medical help was needed their services were at demand. Their medical writings include all sorts of magic charms and chants, but they had a lot of practical knowledge. They knew how to deal with broken bones, wounds, and fevers. It is said that they approached their study of medicine in a remarkably scientific way.
An example of likely treatment in those early times is the binding of a slice of raw meat over a stitched wound. Also wounds were treated with willow leaves, which contain salicylic acid (aspirin), to reduce inflammation, plus copper, sodium salts to help dry up the wound. Cream and flour were mixed to make a cast for a broken limb. With very bad diseases, where they didn’t understand the cause, magic spells were mixed with the potions. Even if the magic didn’t work itself the patient felt a little better just thinking it might work. There are many gods and goddesses to be found in the beliefs of ancient Egypt.
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The gods were associated with individual provinces, and their names varied throughout the country. The basic belief of most Egyptians was that in the beginning there was only water. Then, just as happened after the Nile floods every year, the first mound of earth rose out of the waters of chaos. What they believed happened next depended on where they lived.
There were common gods to all though. For ordinary families most important in their daily lives were the household Demigods: Thou eris the hippopotamus, and the little frog He tak, who helped at childbirth; the seven Hathor’s who protected children; Renenvet, the cobra goddess of the harvest; and, most of all ugly dwarf Bes, who brought good luck to everyone. People painted images of these gods on their walls or wore them as good luck charms. They believed that everyone had several parts. The ka; spiritual double, created at birth and released from the body at death. The ba; soul, and the akh; supernatural power.
As long as the body was preserved, the ka and ba would live. That is why they carefully mummified their dead and laid them in tombs where offerings of food could be made, which would nourish the ka. Once in the tomb it was believed that the akh began its journey to the hall of judgment. The god Anubis held the person’s heart in one pan in another a feather of Ma ” at, the goddess of justice. The more crimes the dead person admitted to, the heavier the heart. If it outweighed the feather, then the Gobbler, a monster made of lion, crocodile, and hippo, swallowed it and it became an evil spirit, forever fighting the gods.
If it passed the test it went with Osiris to live in the fields of Yalu, a place like Egypt only more beautiful. They had a saying; “He who reaches the other world without wrongdoing shall exist there like a god.” There were several festivals during the year where people could get closer to their god. Sometimes a statue of the god would be paraded around the temple walls carried in a closed shrine on a golden boat. Some of Ancient Egypt’s most remarkable achievements were in architecture and engineering, especially in designing plus building the great pyramids. In Egypt there are more than 80 pyramids which experts believe are the tombs built by pharaohs, as the final resting place for their body.
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The finest sculptors, masons, engineers, and countless laborers spent years building the tombs. They were not slaves but farmers who believed that if they help their king get to heaven, he would look after them in the next world. They produced objects of superb workmanship in stone, copper, gold, and wood. Jewelry was among the most popular things. The paintings inside the tombs were decorated by teams of craftsmen. Those paintings were believed to be partly magic.
Things painted were believed to become real in the afterworld so they showed them as clearly as possible. Their art is what makes ancient Egyptians popular today among other things. What they are also known by is their writing and calculations. They used a form of writing called hieroglyphics. The script is made of about 750 signs which include pictures of people, animals, plants, and objects. The last priests who wrote in this way died in about A.
D. 400, and the ability to read hieroglyphics died with them. The Egyptians were a practical people, and to them knowledge was important because it was useful. They needed ways to measure their fields, and predict the size of their crops, and figure out supplies, so they created a simple arithmetic and geometry. There were only 7 signs for numbers. There was no zero and no multiplication or division.
To multiply they added the number to itself as many times as needed. They did use fractions. They developed engineering and numerical skills in building the pyramids. Their concern with religion and the need for arranging a calendar of festivals led to their interest in astronomy.
By careful observation, they learned the movements of some stars, and charted the skies. One of their greatest achievements was their creation of a calendar. It is very close to the ones we have today. They set the beginning of the year on the day the Nile began to rise because that was the most important event to them.
Astronomers noticed that the Nile’s rising happened at the same time the brightest star in the sky (Sirius, the Dog Star) rose with the sun. By counting the number of days until the Dog Star again rose at dawn, they worked out a calendar of 365 days. They learned they needed to correct the calendar every so often by adding extra days, as we add a day in leap years. They also divided day and night into 12 parts, hours to us, and they created shadow clocks that marked the time by the shadow cast by an upright arm onto a horizontal arm, and water clocks. In water clocks the passing of time was measured by water dripping out of a hole at the bottom of a stone bowl. They developed a way to live that included work and the fulfillment of duties to the state and their religion.
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They were able to spend time at leisure and in creative activities. All Egyptians enjoyed leisure. Peasants had less of it but they still had time for dancing and singing, and sometimes a special meal. They were all very fond of music and had professionals and amateurs (often women) playing harps, lutes, flutes, oboes, and clarinets. The early Egyptians are to some extent the same people as the Egyptians of today. Those who now live beside the Nile are descended from those who settled in farming villages there before history began.
They are also descended from the foreigners who for thousands of years have arrived and settled in their country. Their many great achievements form a magnificent legacy from a gifted people to us today, and all those that may come after us.