National Geographic : 1955 May
728 National Geographic Photographer J. Baylor Roberts Crumbling Limestone Makes Treacherous Climbing on Egypt's Earliest Pyramid This 195-foot step pyramid at Saqqara houses King Djoser's 5,000-year-old tomb. Workers clearing a path load a hardy camel; Egypt's versatile beast of burden also plows the fellahin's fields and turns irrigation wheels. about 10 miles back from the shores, are settled and cultivated.* Egypt, of course, is mostly uninhabitable desert. Its borders enclose a land area equal to Texas and New Mexico combined. Yet it squeezes a population of 22,221,000, two and a half times that of Texas, into 3 percent of this space. This cultivable fraction is a slender oasis with a total area of about 13,500 square miles-a little larger than the Nether lands. The average farm has half an acre of land. Small wonder that the Nile is so anxiously studied and watched over, with $1,000,000 spent each year on hydrological research alone, as the river's flow becomes a more and more critical fact to the expanding population it supports. Once a year the Nile overflows its banks, spreading a thin layer of alluvial soil over its flood plain to revivify the tired, intensely cultivated land (page 726). This soil, most of it transported from the highlands of Ethi opia, accumulates at the rate of about 4 inches every century. Egyptian farmland, therefore, now stands 7 feet higher than in Cleopatra's time, and 20 to 30 feet above the level in the days when the pyramids were built. Village life in modern Egypt preserves in all essentials the features of rural life in an cient Egypt. Even the people's stature, build, and coloring mirror the appearance of the subjects of Pharaoh.t Incriminating Skull Four miles below Aswan Dam we took pho tographs of the newly excavated tomb of an Egyptian general of the Old Kingdom. A skull one of the archeologists gave me for a souvenir later got me in trouble when a curious policeman spotted it in my kayak and was positive he had caught a murderer red handed! * See "By Felucca Down the Nile," by Willard Price, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1940. t See "Daily Life in Ancient Egypt," by William C. Hayes, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1941.