Land, Water, and Wood: Managing Resources in Ancient and Modern Egypt

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By: Juan Carlos Moreno García

Egypt has the aura of an unchanged landscape. But how much of what we see today and in the recent past really applies to antiquity? Are they in fact two fundamentally different entities? And what do the similarities between past and present tell us about the future of Egypt?

Nineteenth century tourists, scholars and travellers visiting Egypt often considered that the economic and administrative practices observed in the Nile Valley were a simple continuation of those prevailing in the past. In fact, the alleged continuity between ancient and modern Egypt has enjoyed a durable, and perhaps misleading, impact in the way we interpret the civilization of the Pharaohs.

One example is bureaucracy. The huge quantities of papyri recovered from Ptolemaic sites, not to mention the discovery of earlier important administrative documents like the Wilbour papyrus of the 20th Dynasty (ca. 1147 BCE) and others, led historians to suppose that ancient Egypt was the archetypical model of a bureaucratic centralised state. There, a myriad of scribes recorded every activity and resource of interest for the state, and of course, the king.

Fragment of the Wilbour Papyrus

Fragment of the Wilbour Papyrus

Another example is water management. Once again, scholars thought that (more…)

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