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Nile River and the Desert

In ancient times, the Egyptians called the desert the "red land", distinguishing it from the flood plain around the Nile River, called the "black land". These colours reflect the fact that the desert sands have a reddish hue and the land around the Nile turned black when the annual flood waters receded.

CMC PCD 2001-286-011 Link to Nile River 
CMC PCD 2001-306-004

The desert and the Nile River emerged millions of years ago when the ancient sea that covered most of Europe and northern Africa (45 million years ago) shifted, forming the Mediterranean Sea basin. This happened when the earth's plates moved, creating the Himalayas and the Alps. Over thousands of years, the Nile River evolved into its present shape, surrounded by the Eastern and Western deserts.

The Upper Nile is divided into three tributaries: the White Nile, the Blue Nile and the Atbara River. The White Nile flows from Lake Victoria, Lake Edward and Lake George, and the Blue Nile originates in the Ethiopian mountains. The Atbara River flows from the Ethiopian highlands and meets the combined White Nile and Blue Nile just north of Khartoum. Before the river enters the Mediterranean Sea, it divides into four smaller tributaries in the delta region.

The northern region of Egypt is bounded by two deserts, the mountainous Eastern, or Arabian, Desert and the sandy Western, or Libyan, Desert. Nomadic tribes continue to roam these desert regions as they have done for centuries, stopping at oases to replenish their water supplies.

Around 5000 B.C., when the climate became more arid, nomadic groups retreated to the Nile Valley, creating the first urban settlements. These communities were concentrated in the North and the South. As a result, Egypt became known as the "Double Land" or the "Two Lands" of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The two lands were united in 3100 B.C. by the legendary King Menes. He established a new administrative city where the Nile River branches out into the delta. In ancient times it was called "White Walls" or Mennefer; the Greeks called it Memphis. It remained the capital of Egypt for over 3,500 years. Although there is no archaeological proof that King Menes existed, the famous Narmer palette that depicts two images of a king, one wearing the crown of Upper Egypt and the other the crown of Lower Egypt, is thought to depict King Menes. King Menes and King Narmer may have been the same person, the first king of Egypt.

Dualities, such as desert and river valley, Upper and Lower Egypt, life and death, were an important organizing principle of the Egyptian's world view.

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