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20 November 2003
Drought destroyed ancient Egytptian civilisation

A team of scientists believe they have discovered why the world's first great civilisation, established in Egypt nearly 5000 years ago, crumbled and plunged into a dark age that lasted for more than 1000 years. The researchers have produced new evidence linking the demise of the Egyptian Old Kingdom with decades of drought after a study of layers of sediment at the source of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana in northern Ethiopia.
     The Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza are among the only remaining legacies of the Old Kingdom, which lasted from 2575 to 2150 BCE, before the time of Tutankhamen, Ramses, and Queen Nefertiti. The destruction of the pharaohs' power and the collapse of central government had followed 1000 years of cultural advancement, with its characteristic architecture, literature, and art. The famine that followed the drought was so severe that there is evidence people violated the royal dead and that some were forced to eat their own children.
     Some of the theories for the collapse of the world's greatest dynasties have included political conflict and an invasion from Asia. But most historians believe the initial breakdown was prompted by significant drops, over two or three decades, in the level of the Nile, whose annual floods were crucial for the irrigation of crops. Texts from the period say that the famine was brought about by the failure of the floods, but there has been little scientific proof of this.
     Other scientific studies have shown a short-lived but pronounced decline in rainfall and reduced water-flow around 2150 BCE over an area that extended from Tibet to Italy.

Sources: The Herald (11 November 2003), History News Network (12 November 2003)

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