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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: August 2009



Bread is a very simple manufactured article whose rise in the oven is closely related to the rise of the sun in the sky.

Piero Camporesi (1989)


Egypt and North Africa

For thousands of years after the beginnings of Mesopotamian agriculture, an abundance of game animals, lake and river fish, and wild cereals in North Africa did little to discourage a foraging way of life. Hunter-gatherer groups adopted livestock herding, yet continued to gather wild plants – especially the root parts of sedges, rushes, and cattails in riparian environments. But around 5000 bce the Sahara began expanding, an expansion that accelerated sharply around 2000 bce. Desertification ushered people into fertile oases, and especially into the Nile Valley, where periodic migrations from the northwest brought knowledge of the Middle Eastern plant complex. It was in that valley that first barley and later wheat began to flourish, although until farming took firm hold, Nile fish (particularly catfish) and root foods continued to sustain many. By around 4000 bce, however, small states and kingdoms had arisen, supported by “taxes” levied on peasant farmers on food that went directly into the storehouses of the rulers. The small principalities gradually evolved into the two large states of Upper and Lower Egypt that were fused around 3100 bce under the first of the pharaohs. Exploitation quickened of a peasantry that now had nowhere to go. Desertification had trapped them in the Nile Valley, where the Pharaoh owned all of the land.

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A Movable Feast
  • Online ISBN: 9780511512148
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