World Archaeology Vol. 29(1): 51-74 Riverine Archaeology
The dynamics of a riverine civilization: a geoarchaeological perspective on the Nile Valley, Egypt

Fekri A. Hassan
< back
Egyptian civilization depended on the bounty of the River Nile. Frequent fluctuations in the height of summer floods influenced both floodplain geomorphology and the area cultivated. Thus agricultural yield oscillated as a function of pronounced interannual variability, as well as episodic variations in response to abrupt climatic changes in the watershed of the Nile tributaries. This situation also created a dynamic landscape and a variety of cultural responses depending on the specific cultural-historical circumstances. The aggradation of the floodplain has also influenced the recovery of archaeological remains. Predynastic settlement sites in the Delta are 4-6m below the surface and Graeco-Roman settlements are Ió2m deep. Subsidence of the Delta and sea-level change were responsible for pronounced changes in the geomorphology of the Delta, the distribution of water-ways and hence trade.

Egypt; rivers; Nile; geoarchaeology; Delta; floods; floodplain.

The archaeology of a riverine civilization: on theory and method
On the banks of some of the great rivers of the world, in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China, humanity undertook a leap into a new dimension of social relations, embarking on a journey that led to a world that contrasted radically with that of foragers and hunters. In that sense, riverine agriculture was an enabling force providing humanity with the means to alter nature and mobilize enormous resources for achievements in art and intellectual pursuits. The potential for food producers to generate much more food than was needed for their subsistence enabled the emergence of full-time managers and craft specialists who could devote their time and energy not only to assisting in minimizing agricultural failures and keeping settled, large groups together, but also to exploring in depth the intellectual and artistic domains of the human mind.