We know that ancient Egypt was blessed with the longest river on earth, the Nile. Farming was the occupation of the majority of the population. This rainless land had an extremely dry and hot climate.
But the annual flooding of the river Nile left the Egyptian soil fertile and rich, ideal for farming. Therefore, the prosperity of this civilization depended almost entirely on the great Nile River.
This is illustrated by the fact that majority of the Egyptian population lived around the river. The river was worshipped in the form of Hapi, the Nile god. Records show that Egyptians practiced some form of irrigation around 5000 years ago.
It can be said that this waterway was the sole (but powerful) source of water for the Egyptian community. At its peak, the flood would cover the entire floodplain to a depth of 1.5 meters.
Egyptian Irrigation Works
Hence Egyptian Irrigation works could be planned very early. The ancient Egyptians built a network of earthen banks, some parallel to the river and some perpendicular to it, which formed basins of various sizes.
Simple sluices diverted water into them at the peak of the flood. Water was allowed to stand in the fields for 40 to 60 days, and then was drained off the crops at the right moment in the growing cycle, downstream back into the river.
There was always plenty of water, so salts never built up in the soil; and the flow in the canals and ditches was strong enough to avoid sitting. Ditches and canals were short, and the typical irrigation scheme was very local.
The ancient Egyptians dug a long canal called Bahr Yousuf to bring water from the Nile to the Faiyum Depression for irrigation. Egyptians developed a system of “Nilometers” at various points along the valley.
This was helpful in comparing past and present water levels. Water storage was not attempted by the Egyptians. Water was transported in jugs as illustrated in many places.
The people were at advantage because of the natural restoration of fertility every year and Egyptian Irrigation did not occur to them as a difficulty. The shaduf was the water lifting device used by the farming population appeared after 1500 BC. It consists of a container made of animal skins or clay attached to a lever counterbalanced by stones.
The container is dipped into the river, when full it is lifted out and dumped into a canal. The shaduf by the museum can hold 20 litres of water. The fortunate people of Egypt made use of the timely flooding of the Nile, which indeed remains, for many number of decades, as a blessing to the valley.