Ancient Egypt once had different and more complex ecology, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shown. A study concerning the steady decline of animal life along the Nile reveals that Egypt’s animal population was affected over time by not only the environment itself but also human influence. The journal indicates that human society 6,000 years ago had trouble with animals just like the humans of today.
Approximately 6,000 years ago, the Ancient Egyptian ecological make-up contained 37 different large animal species, according to the artwork and objects studied in old tombs. The land around the Nile was “rich” and contained a diverse community of mammals. Today, that number of mammals has decreased to only eight species.
The animals of ancient Egypt included elephants, wild dogs, lions, rhinoceroses, antelopes, and others. Present at one time in the works of the Egyptians, these animals no longer live in the Egypt of today.
Increases in human population are said to have contributed to the decline of animal life, aside from environmental factors. The discovery is a unique one–people tend to think of the negative effect of the human race on the environment as a modern phenomenon.
Proof of the once-diverse wildlife was found in the Ancient Egyptians’ own records. Paintings in ancient tombs showed the Egyptian Nile Valley was abundant with animal species that are now extinct. Once, the drawings show, predators and prey were both prevalent in the region.
Before Pharaohs and pyramids, the Egyptian ecosystem was a different place. “Wetter” and greener, it sustained more life and was less hot than it is today. The Sahara contained lakes and flora. Over time, as human growth and natural catastrophes occurred, things became unbalanced and the environment changed due to natural factors. Humans became more of a threat to the native animal species.
Ancient Egypt grew drier roughly around the time of the rise of the Pharaohs, approximately 5000 years ago. As the ancient people went from a pastoral existence to an agricultural society, antelopes were hunted to extinction. Rhinoceroses also died out, possibly over-hunted as well. As human population growth occurred alongside the environment changes, things became unbalanced. Smaller animals died out and predatory mammals had less food to eat. The stability of the ecosystem was compromised and numbers dropped over time.
The Nile’s flooding cycle became unreliable approximately 4200 years ago. The African wild dog vanished from records during this period. Famine and war became common in Ancient Egypt, and the region turned into a place of chaos. Around the time of Tutankhamun approximately 3000 years ago, the long-maned lion apparently died out, as it was no longer mentioned after that time on.
The leopards and the wild boar clung on until just 150 years ago. Eventually they too vanished. According to the researchers, Egypt’s history “is a window into the influence” of how climatic and human changes can affect the wildlife communities.
The Egypt of today has a very different ecological system compared to the ancient region of 6,000-10,000 years ago. Studying the ancient model of human expansion and environmental changes could prove to help us in the future to preserve our own environment. The records of the past may help to influence the future.
By Jillian Moyet