Like the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians depended on floodwaters for their agriculture. Unlike the Mesopotamians, however, Egyptian farmers were able to predict, or tell ahead of time, when floods would come. The yearly flood, or inundation, took place at about the same time each year. The need to keep track of this important event led the Egyptians to develop a calendar. The Egyptian calendar is the oldest known calendar based on the sun. Like our calendar, it had 365 days.
The Egyptians divided their year into three seasons based on the action of the Nile River. These three seasons were Inundation, Emergence, and Harvest.
Because the time of flooding was so important to the Egyptians, they considered it to be the start of their new year. During Inundation the land was made new again with silt from the floodwaters that covered the farmland.
Inundation was followed by Emergence, the time when the land emerged once more from beneath the waters. As this season began, farmers planted their crops. To plant crops, Egyptian farmers used plows or hoes to create furrows, or long grooves. They dropped seeds along each furrow and then led cows or other farm animals through the fields. As the animals walked over the furrows, they pushed the seeds into the ground.
The growing season was only long enough to produce one crop of grains such as wheat. However, as many as three or four crops of some vegetables could be produced in the fertile soil.
The final season was Harvest, the time when the crops were ready. In most years Egyptian farmers could be certain of having large harvests. "It is to be a beautiful year, free from want and rich in all herbs," an Egyptian farmer said in a year of plentiful crops.
The Nile was "the giver of life," but life was not easy for the ancient Egyptians.
Their environment created many hardships for farmers. Because of this, the Egyptians developed innovations both to bring water to their fields and to take it away.
Rain hardly ever fell in Egypt itself. To keep their land watered during the growing season, the Egyptians developed ways to irrigate it. During Emergence, people trapped water in ponds to use in case of drought.
When too much rain caused flooding, the Egyptians, like the people of Mesopotamia, built dams and dikes to hold back the river. They also dug canals to carry excess water back to the river.
Most Egyptians were farmers and many of their inventions had to do with agriculture. Inventions such as the shaduf (shah*DOOF) are still used in rural parts of Egypt. A shaduf is a long pole with a basket for holding water on one end and a weight on the other. The shaduf allows farmers to draw water from the Nile and use it in their canals or fields.
What did the Egyptians do to control the Nile River?