Alchemy in Islamic Times

History of Botany Part 2: Ancient Egyptian Agriculture and Crop Processing

This study is made by Dr. Wafaa M. Amer, Botany Deptartment, Faculty of Science, Cairo University,Giza 12613, Egypt.
These pages are edited by Prof. Hamed Abdel-reheem Ead
Professor of Chemistry at Faculty of Science-University of Cairo Giza-Egypt and director of Science Heritage Center
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First Farming settlements in Egypt.
Crop processing in Ancient Egypt.
1 -Ploughing.

First Farming settlements in Egypt.

The earliest agricultural sites in Egypt date back to the fifth millennium B.C. and slightly earlier (Wetterstrom,1993).
I-In lower Egypt:
(1) A series of Neolithic sites in the Fayum which span the period 5200 B.C. to about 4000 B.C
(2) Merimde Beni Salama on the Delta which was occupied from about 4800 B.C. to 4400 B.C. or probably later.
(3) The site of El-Omari near Helwan which is insecurely plased by a single radiocarbon data at 4100 + 260 Cal B.C. (Hassan 1985).

Il-In upper Egypt:
Badarian region (Hemamieh site) 6050 + 300 BP now regarded as the earliest manifestation of farming communities in Egypt.

The above mentioned sites were cleared that the earliest agriculture in Egypt was started at Nile Valley which owes its existence to the alluvial deposits (El-Hadidi and Kosinova' 1971). Ancient inhabitant's in the Nile valley was considered the year as three seasons based on crop processing:

1-Flooding season "Akhet" started from mid June to mid October.
2-Sowing season "Brt" meaning the reappearance of land again after flooding season or the seed appearance. It started from mid October to the end of February.
3-Harvesting season "Shmo" meaning the summer season started from February to July.

Crop processing in Ancient Egypt

Prior the cultivation in Dynastic period the land to be cultivated was divided into plots with banks extended parallel to the Nile as well as other banks at right angle with the first (photos after Nazir 1970).

1 -Ploughing:
The cultivated land was subjected to an efficient mouldboard plough by wooden axe"Ti" tomb Saqqara; Fifith Dynasty; Old Kingdom.

Cereal grains were hand-sown; goats walked over the sowed area to press the grains down into the soil away from the birds. "Ti" tomb Saqqara; Fifith Dynasty; Old Kingdom.

Cereal crops were harvested by sicklereaplng using glazed wooden sickles. "Meri Roka" tomb Six Dynasty, Saqqara; Old Kingdom.

The reaped cereals were collected in bundles and carried on donkeys to an open dry-area to avoid grain and straw spoilage. 'Tibba" tomb 18 th Dynasty; flew kingdom. "Shik Sahid" tombs area: Old Kingdom.

In the dry Egyptian summer the parched cereal crop was spread and trampled by donkeys hooves. Donkeys were used in the Old Kingdom. While cows were used in the Middle Kingdom. The process involve the fragmentation of spikelets and straw producing crop grains, light chaff. Threshing by donkeys in Old Kingdom.

The process occurred by using simple wooden forks. It was convenient to eliminate the light chaff and straw from the crop grains. The process was done by women as depicted on "Neket" tomb 18 th Dynasty; New kingdom.

The process was done by coarse riddle sieves made from palm leaves or reeds. Sieving separate the crop grains from longer chaff and larger weed seeds or grains.

The pure crop was stored in muddy bins until its consumption. "Helwan" area First Dynasty, Old Kingdom.

El -Hadidi, M.N. and Kosinova'. J. (1971) Studies on the weed flora of cultivated 3671and in Egypt 1. Preliminary survey. Mitt . bot Staatssamml 10:354-367.
Hassan, F.A.(1985) A radiocarbon chrology of Neolithic and Predynastic sites in upper Egypt and the Delta. African Archaeological Review, 3:95-116.
Nazir, W. (1970) Plants in Ancient Egypt. :42-82! Egyptian printing co. ( in Arabic).
Wetterstrom, W. (1993) Foraging and farming in Egypt: the transition from hunting and gathernig into horticulture in the Nile Vallely: in The Archaeology of Africa: Food metals and towns (eds: Shaw, T.; Sinclair, P.; Andah, B. and Okpoko, A.).Pp.165-226, London and New York.