Land was assigned to high officials to provide them with an income, and most tracts required payment of substantial dues to the state, which had a strong interest in keeping the land in agricultural use.Abandoned land was taken back into state ownership and reassigned for cultivation.Most people lived in villages and towns in the Nile valley and delta.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.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.The eastern desert, between the Nile and the Red Sea, was more important, for it supported a small nomadic population and desert game, contained numerous mineral deposits, including gold, and was the route to the Red Sea. It offered the principal route for contact with Sinai, from which came turquoise and possibly copper, and with southwestern Asia, Egypt’s most important area of cultural interaction, from which were received stimuli for technical development and cultivars for crops.Immigrants and ultimately invaders crossed the isthmus into Egypt, attracted by the country’s stability and prosperity.
The native Egyptian breed of sheep became extinct in the 2nd millennium and was replaced by an Asiatic breed. Ducks and geese were kept for food, and many of the vast numbers of wild and migratory birds found in Egypt were hunted and trapped.Egypt needed few imports to maintain basic standards of living, but good timber was essential and not available within the country, so it usually was obtained from Lebanon.Minerals such as obsidian and lapis lazuli were imported from as far afield as Anatolia and Afghanistan. The fertility of the land and general predictability of the inundation ensured very high productivity from a single annual crop.The people who lived on and worked the land were not free to leave and were obliged to work it, but they were not slaves; most paid a proportion of their produce to major officials.Free citizens who worked the land on their own behalf did emerge; terms applied to them tended originally to refer to poor people, but these agriculturalists were probably not poor.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.Sheep were primarily a source of meat; their wool was rarely used. Desert game, principally various species of antelope and ibex, were hunted by the elite; it was a royal privilege to hunt lions and wild cattle.Pets included dogs, which were also used for hunting, cats, and monkeys.