Its many achievements, preserved in its art and monuments, hold a fascination that continues to grow as archaeological finds expose its secrets.
This article focuses on Egypt from its prehistory through its unification under Menes (Narmer) in the 3rd millennium According to Hebrew tradition, a famine caused the migration to Egypt of the band of 12 Hebrew families that later made up a tribal league in the land of Israel.
Instead, a few centres, notably Memphis and Thebes, attracted population and particularly the elite, while the rest of the people were relatively evenly spread over the land.
The size of the population has been estimated as having risen from 1 to 1.5 million in the 3rd millennium .
Cattle may have been domesticated in northeastern Africa.
The Egyptians kept many as draft animals and for their various products, showing some of the interest in breeds and individuals that is found to this day in the Sudan and eastern Africa.
This productivity made it possible to store large surpluses against crop failures and also formed the chief basis of Egyptian wealth, which was, until the creation of the large empires of the 1st millennium , the greatest of any state in the ancient Middle East.
Dwellings were normally built of mud brick and have long since disappeared beneath the rising water table or beneath modern town sites, thereby obliterating evidence for settlement patterns.As the river deposited alluvial silt, raising the level of the floodplain, and land was reclaimed from marsh, the area available for cultivation in the Nile valley and delta increased, while pastoralism declined slowly.In addition to grain crops, fruit and vegetables were important, the latter being irrigated year-round in small plots. Papyrus, which grew abundantly in marshes, was gathered wild and in later times was cultivated.Between the floodplain and the hills is a variable band of low desert that supported a certain amount of game. The First Cataract at Aswān, where the riverbed is turned into rapids by a belt of granite, was the country’s only well-defined boundary within a populated area.To the south lay the far less hospitable area of Nubia, in which the river flowed through low sandstone hills that in most regions left only a very narrow strip of cultivable land.