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Topics: Topics: Farming
Agriculture > Farming

Most members of ancient Egyptian society were involved in some aspect of agriculture. The peasant farmer either worked the land of a wealthy landowner or bureaucrat and was repaid in food, clothes, and shelter or rented the land and repaid the owner a portion of the crop. There were not always enough workers for farm work and harvesting, so groups of workers were gathered through the corvee, which was a system of forced labor. Farming was done on the highest ground in the floodplain, the land on either side of the Nile. This dark black soil was the most fertile land in Egypt.

Farmers used a variety of simple tools. To loosen the soil they used a hoe made from a broad, thin sharp-edged blade of hard wood fastened at an acute angle to a long wooden handle with plant-fiber cord. The plough was made of a long blade of hard wood tied to a pair of wooden stilts. A long pole extended from the stilts to the yoke over the necks of oxen or donkeys. The plowman would lean on the stilts to drive the blade into the soil along the furrow. Sickles made of wood with rows of flint blades were used from the Neolithic to the New Kingdom to harvest the grain. Flint was replaced with copper blades, then bronze in the Middle Kingdom. Iron blades were introduced after the Roman period. Farmers might have also used ground stone axes, wooden shovels, wooden pitchforks, and wooden rakes.

The Nile flooded the valley during a period called "Aketo," corresponding to the period from July to December in the current calendar. Farmlands were under water and irrigation canals ran water to lands not reached by the Nile. The outflow period was the coolest season, called "Peleto," and it lasted from December to March. Once the ground was firm enough to walk on, the land was ploughed, usually with the help of an animal. A scribe would measure out the allotment of grain for the farmer and keep a written record. Sowing was done by hand, accompanied by small livestock such as goats or sheep that would walk over the fields to push the grain in before it could be eaten by birds.

The dry season called "Syumuu" followed, from March to July. This was the time of bringing in the harvest. First, the scribes, led by the "Overseer of Fields," carefully measured the size of the field to determine the probable yield to compare to the actual yield after the harvest. This was done to determine taxes and to make sure the harvest was reported honestly. When the grain was ready for harvest, it was cut halfway up the stalk using sickles. The grain was bundled and carried to a dry place to avoid spoilage. It was then threshed, where it was spread on a contained area and trampled by hoofs of donkeys or cows. This began to separate the wheat from the chaff. Wooden forks were then used to remove the light chaff from the heavier grain. Next, the workers used sieves made of reeds and palm leaves to separate out the smaller weeds and chaff. They stored the grain in baskets or sacks placed in bins or brick-lined pits or in grain silos. Most of the harvest was used for consumption throughout the year, but some of it was set aside to be used as seed for the next year's crops.

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