Ancient Egypt and Sudan: a Key Stage 2 guide to farming in the Nile Valley.
How can we find out about agriculture in the Nile Valley?
1. Wall paintings: artistic scenes in tombs and temples illustrate many agricultural activities.
2. Artefacts: stone tools and pots are found in towns and tombs. Agricultural tools made from wood are usually only found in tombs, where they are preserved due to dry conditions which stop decay.
3. Ethnographic research: we can talk to farmers today about growing crops in the Nile Valley.
4. Archaeobotanical remains from towns and tombs: these are usually seeds, but sometimes food such as bread and whole fruits are preserved because of the dry conditions in tombs.
The charred grains on slide 6 and the cooking pot on this slide survived in the ground for over 3000 years. Materials are affected in different ways when they are buried. Test what happens to different materials such as pottery, fabric, metal, wheat grains, charred seeds and grains, stone and plant material (e.g. an apple) when they are buried in different types of soils.
Fill one tray with topsoil and the another with sand. Bury the same materials in both trays - water the topsoil regularly and leave the sand dry. Record what happens to the samples you buried after a week, a month or a whole term.
What changes do you notice?
In which tray have the samples been best preserved?
How does this help us understand what sort of evidence from the past archaeologists and archaeobotanists find?
The tomb paintings on slides 14 and 15 illustrate how ancient Egyptian farmers grew and harvested cereals. The different stages of the process are presented in a series of scenes. This is a very efficient way of telling a story without using words and is the technique we use when we make a storyboard.
In groups, discuss a process (how something is made) or an event and illustrate it on your own storyboard. Think about the different stages you will need to show.
What should people be wearing?
Are they using specific tools?
Where does the scene take place?
Take it in turn to share and present your storyboard to the other groups.
Using this object as a starting point, imagine you are an ancient Egyptian farmer from Amara West. Write a first-person account of your daily life in the town. Remember that in ancient times the town was on an island. What would your life have been like?
Here are some things you can think about to get you started.
What is your house like?
What do you do during the day?
What you do eat?
What do you do at home?
Trace the course of the Nile on a map. Identify the blue Nile and the white Nile. What countries does it run through? Using your knowledge of ancient Egypt, explain why the river was so important to the Egyptians (think about trade, agriculture, religious beliefs). Look at current photographs of the banks of Nile and describe what the land by the river looks like. Then, look at the aerial view of Amara West on this slide. Compare the land on Ernatta island with that around Amara West.
What caused the desertification of the land near Amara West?
What consequences did it have? Think about the effects it had on vegetation, on wildlife and human settlements.
What would have happened to the people living in Amara West when the water stopped flowing? Going back to your map of the Nile, find the Aswan dam. When was the dam built? Why? What impact (negative and positive) would the dam have had on the environment, agriculture and people's life?
This project was created as part of the Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan Project.
Ancient Egypt and Sudan Key Stage 2 guide created at the British Museum by
Philippa Ryan (Department of Scientific Research)
Illustrations by Claire Thorne (Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan)
Animations by Laurie Rowan.
This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council [AH/K006193/1]
Find out more about the project here.
Further information and references:
P. Ryan, 2016, From raw resources to food processing; archaeobotanical and ethnographic in sights from New Kingdom Amara West and present-day Ernetta Island in northern Sudan, In L. Steel and K. Zinn (eds.), Exploring the Materiality of Food Stuffs: Archaeological and Anthropological Perspectives, Routledge