Geography of Northern Africa
The Nile River runs like a thin ribbon through the vast northern African desert known as the Sahara. All along its course, the river brings life to a dry land. Long ago the Nile's annual flood was a central part of life in ancient Egypt. The flooding of the Nile brought both water and rich soil to the land along its banks. This gift of the Nile made possible the great ancient Egyptian civilization.
The Nile Valley
During the Paleolithic period, or Old Stone Age, the Sahara was a vast savanna, or grassy plain, with many trees and animals. The early people living there were hunter-gatherers. Then, about 5000 B.C., the climate began to change and the Sahara slowly dried up. As the land dried, plants died and animals left to search for water.
Over time, the rich savanna turned into a harsh desert.
Without plants and animals, people could no longer survive in the Sahara. They began to move into the Nile Valley. The Nile Valley is made up of fertile land along both sides of the Nile River. The winding Nile is the world's longest river. It flows northward more than 4,000 miles (6,437 km) from its main source at Lake Victoria in central Africa, to the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile also has sources in the mountains of eastern Africa.
As with all rivers, the land is higher at the beginning of the Nile and lower near its mouth. This led the ancient people of the region to call the lower land in the north Lower Egypt. The higher land in the south they called Upper Egypt.
Lower Egypt is made up mainly of the Nile Delta. A delta is low land formed at the mouth of some rivers by the silt the river drops there. The Nile Delta fans out in a huge triangle where the Nile enters the Mediterranean Sea. Long ago the Nile River broke into many branches as it passed through the delta. Today only two of these branches remain.
In Upper Egypt high cliffs surround the Nile. In some places a narrow strip of flat fertile land lies between the river and the cliffs. In other places the cliffs reach all the way to the river's edge. The cliffs are mostly made up of limestone and sandstone. Over thousands of years, the Nile River has cut a deep channel, or path, through these soft stones. Farther south, in the land that was known as Nubia, the cliffs also include very hard granite. The Nile has been unable to cut a clear path through these cliffs. Instead, the river runs through cataracts, a series of rapids and waterfalls.
Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt have one important thing in common both have rich soil. The early people who settled in the Nile Valley found the land perfect for growing crops. Instead of continuing to hunt and gather, they settled as farmers on the Nile Delta and in the narrow river valley to the south.
How would you describe the Nile River?