Posts Tagged ‘cotton’

Nile River Flora

January 10, 2018

By Joannah Otis for No Water No Life (NWNL)

This is the 5th blog in the NWNL series on the Nile River in Egypt by NWNL Researcher Joannah Otis, a sophomore at Georgetown University. This essay addresses the history and uses of the most prevalent types of flora growing in the Nile River Basin. [NWNL has completed documentary expeditions to the White and Blue Nile Rivers, but due to current challenges for photojournalists visiting Egypt and Sudan, NWNL is using literary and online resources to investigate the availability, quality and usage of the main stem of the Nile.]

The Nile River is home to thousands of species of flora, many of which were vital to the livelihoods of Ancient Egyptians. Aside from growing crops for consumption, Egyptians have long grown plants like cotton, papyrus, and flax for commercial purposes. The diversity and extent of plant life in Egypt is a tribute to the Nile River’s incredible life-giving capacity.

Egyptian cotton is perhaps the most well-known plant product to emerge from the African continent, although the modern variety was not cultivated in Egypt until 1821 when ruler Mohamed Ali Pasha discovered that his country’s climate was perfect for growing cotton. It should be noted, however, that the native variety (G. herbaceum) was first cultivated by Pliny in first century CE Nubia. By 1869, cotton production had expanded significantly to meet the demands of European textile factors in the wake of the American Civil War. Both the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1970 benefitted the cotton trade. While the canal made trade easier and more accessible, the dam protected the cotton from flooding and allowed for the expansion of its cultivation by providing regular irrigation. Today, Egypt remains a significant exporter of cotton to countries all over the world.1

800px-Cotton_field_kv17Cotton Field
Attribution: Kimberly Vardeman

In Ancient Egypt, the linen made from flax was a universal fabric that every citizen wore regardless of class. Linen is still grown in Egypt, although it is no longer the sole clothing material worn. Considered to be a symbol of purity and divine light, linen was a sacred cloth used to mummify the dead. It was also used to make sails and as a form of payment. The earliest example of Egyptian linen dates from 4500 BCE. Towards the end of the Egyptian civilization, the government established linen production centers staffed by slave laborers. Since everyone wore linen, class was differentiated by the fineness of the weave and the number of layers worn; the more important the person, the finer the weave and the more layers they wore. Flax was not only a source of wealth, but also a signifier of it.2

Although papyrus no longer populates the banks of Egypt’s Nile River due to human overexploitation, it was once a plentiful crop that served several purposes for the Ancient Egyptians. Papyrus thrives in shallow fresh water or water-saturated areas, so the Nile Delta marshes and low-lying areas of the Nile Valley were home to dense thickets of the plant. It was harvested to make skiffs used for hunting, pilgrimages, local transport, and funerals as well as to make writing surfaces. This early form of paper was created under heavy pressure from layers of pith found inside the stalk. Fortunately, Egypt’s dry climate has preserved many early papyrus documents, which indicate that the surface was used for letters, legal texts, religious narratives, illustrations, contracts, and administrative documents. The earliest of these dates from c. 2500 BCE and was discovered at Wadi el-Jarf, a Red Sea port. A blank roll of papyrus dating from c. 2900 BCE was also found in the tomb of a high official named Hemaka. These preserved papyri are significant because the surface was often erased and reused several times.3 The cultivation and use of papyrus for writing material ceased in the 9th century CE when paper from other plant fibers became more popular.4

799px-Cyperus_papyrus_(Kafue_River)Papyrus thicket
Attribution: Hans Hillewaert

Papyrus also played a significant role in the Ancient Egyptian religion as the marshes where it grew were considered fertile areas containing the seeds of creation. According to Egyptian myth, the goddess Isis hid her son in the papyrus thickets of Lower Egypt after her brother Seth murdered her husband Osiris. This infant, Horus, was raised amongst the papyrus by the goddess Hathor who was depicted as a cow emerging from papyrus thickets and was worshipped in the Shaking of the Papyrus ritual. Wadjet, the protector goddess of Lower Egypt, was similarly shown carrying a scepter made of papyrus. The ceilings of temples and tombs were often supported by columns whose capitals resembled the tops of papyrus plants. To the Ancient Egyptians, papyrus thickets were symbolic of chaos surrounding and threatening their world as the tickets often hid dangerous creatures such as hippos and crocodiles. Nonetheless, papyrus played an indispensable role in early Egypt.5

Papyrus marsh c. 1427-1400 Upper Egypt

Aside from flax, cotton, and papyrus, Ancient Egyptians grew numerous other crops. These included barley, fava beans, lentils, lettuce, peas, onions, cucumbers, melons, radishes, emmer, wheat, barley, wheat, leeks, grapes, chickpeas, dill, and sesame. Present-day Egyptians continue to harvest these crops with the exception of emmer, which was not grown after the Roman Period, and barley, which also declined after the Roman Period as a result of the popularity of wine over beer. The wide variety of flora found in Egypt speaks to the lushness of the Nile River Basin.6

07.230.34Inlay depicting a bunch of grapes c. 1479-1458 BCE Egypt

Sources:

1 “History of Egyptian Cotton.” Cotton Egypt Association. Web.
2 “Flax in Ancient Egypt” North Dakota State University. 2007. Web
3 Kamrin, Janice. “Papyrus in Ancient Egypt.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web
4 “Egyptian Papyrus.” Egyptain-papyrus.co.uk. Web
5Kamrin, Janice. “Papyrus in Ancient Egypt.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web.
6“Agriculture and horticulture in acient Egypt.” Reshafim.org. 2000. Web.
All photos used based on fair use of Creative Commons and Public Domain.

 

2016 Flooding in Vicksburg and a NWNL 2014 Interview with US Army Corps of Engineers

January 10, 2016

Jones_140922_MS_4086

THIS WEEK’s RECORD-BREAKING MISSISSIPPI RIVER FLOOD

This winter’s costly Mississippi River Flood is now predicted to crest at Vicksburg on Friday Jan 15 at approximately 52 feet – 9 feet above the USGS official flood level.  The home of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg has known great changes in its river hydrology.  In 1876, the Mississippi took a dramatic shortcut across DeSoto Point, per this map illustration No Water no Life photographed on its 2014 Lower Mississippi River expedition.  Let’s hope there is no damage this winter during this current, historic flood.  And let’s hope there are no further rains between now and the time the crest reaches New Orleans.

FLOOD HISTORY of VICKSBURG (since the Civil War)

In 1876:  The Mississippi River course changed and shifted west, leaving Vicksburg without any riverfront.  Thus the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Yazoo River to the old riverbed.  This forced the creation of what is now the Yazoo Diversion Canal, where today’s modern Vicksburg port is located.

Flood of 1927:  The Upper Mississippi and Ohio Valleys experienced well-above-average rainfall in the fall of 1926.  The rain kept coming.  By January 1927 nearly all of the Mississippi River and its tributaries were above flood stage.  In April 1927, the levees began to fail causing massive areas to flood.  In all the Mississippi River breached the levee in 145 places, flooding 27,000 square miles.  Hundreds of thousands of people were homeless and were unable to return to their property until the waters receded, nearly 8 months after the rains began.

Jones_140923_MS_4541

The 1927 flood inundated 27,000 square miles along the lower reaches of the Mississippi River, then populated by more than 900,000 people.  For months in spring and summer of 1927, water covered the lower Mississippi River floodplain and tributaries.  It turned nearly all the cotton fields into a lake of tens of thousands of square miles.

Hundreds of thousands of people were impacted by floods that sent torrents of dirty water into their towns and homes, especially in African American communities.  Many Vicksburg families left for northern cities, such as St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit.  This urban migration drastically reduced the labor class and desperate landowners created forced-work camps to keep their farms going.

Jones_140923_MS_4542

The US Government determined that such a disaster should never be repeated.  The US Army Corps of Engineers [henceforth, USACE] since has put in place plans, designs and infrastructure to mitigate such disasters.

TALKING WITH THE USACE IN VICKSBURG, SEPT. 2014

Jones_140923_MS_4548

Per a No Water No Life USACE interview with Kent Parrish, Noah Vroman and Tommy Hengst, there seems to be reason to be optimistic this month as floodwaters again race and rage through the Lower Mississippi Valley.  Certainly greater riverside development means protection is even more critical, and thankfully it comes at a time when the USACE understands the need for more coordination with water interests.

Jones_140923_MS_4551

As the strength and frequency of storms has increased, the terminology of the Corps has been changed to decrease the level of expectations.  The USACE claim of providing “Flood protection” has now been reduced to insuring “Flood Risk Reduction.”  As well, there are new rules for new types of floods, such as this historically high and unusual winter flood.

The USACE states its approach to regional dam and levee safety has become more rigorous as aged infrastructure poses large maintenance challenges.  Both technological and visual inspections are now used to determine needed strengthening.

Jones_140923_MS_4602

Our two-hour interview yielded journal notations citing impressive rigor by the USACE to adapt to changing demands in the face of changing weather events.  Those interviewed also expressed the determination by the USACE to never become slipshod in its maintenance responsibility.

The USACE of Engineers will certainly be busy this month and for a while to come, assessing their preparations for extreme events and the impacts of such unprecedented pressure on their infrastructure from St Louis, past Cairo where the Ohio River enters the Mississippi, and down to Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Jones_140902_LA_2345

Blog by Alison M. Jones, Director of NWNL

[Source of images and information:  The Lower Mississippi River Museum and Interpretive Site, Vicksburg]

 

Your T-shirt and water consumption

February 8, 2013
Cotton in bloom, TX, Mississippi River Basin

Cotton in bloom, TX, Mississippi River Basin, © Alison M. Jones

Did you know that the total usable freshwater supply for ecosystems and humans is less than 1 percent of all freshwater resources?

How the world uses freshwater:
• about 70 percent for irrigation
• about 22 percent for industry
• about 8 percent for domestic use
Source: World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP)

Did you know that the t-shirt on your back has a major impact on the planet? Producing it took approximately 710 gallons of water, plus it takes a lot of energy to get it from the cotton fields to your closet. But some of your t-shirt’s biggest impacts are in how you care for it. WWF and National Geographic ask: ‘How much stuff do you need?’ Here’s how you can help reduce its effect on the environment.

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

%d bloggers like this: