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That there have been frequent relatively short-term ﬂuctuations in precipitation and humidity in regions which are now wholly desert is clear, though these should not encourage a picture of lush, verdant landscapes teeming with animals where now there are only rock- or sandstrewn wastes. Even a very small variation in precipitation or mean temperature can permit a signiﬁcantly larger faunal or human population to become rooted in a particular region. The establishment of a larger community with the introduction of animal species which may cause further depredation or, conversely, the planting of trees and crops which can, for a time at least, arrest it, are factors which promote or control the spread of deserts.
There has been no other time quite like it in all human history. The land, of course, is Egypt and the times involved represent what historians categorize as the predynastic and Early Dynastic1 periods and the Old Kingdom, the time of Egypt’s ﬁrst and ﬁnest greatness. The earliest phases represent as distant an epoch as may be found in the study of the emergence of a complex, literate society. Nonetheless we know that the people of that thousand years produced a way of life so powerful and enduring that it lasted, in outward form at least, for more than three thousand years, even surviving several extended interruptions.
The fact that much of the Delta was incapable of being excavated because of the rise in the water table prevented work comparable to that carried out on Upper Egyptian sites. 2 Whatever rudimentary political structures existed in the Valley during the fourth millennium were concentrated in the south. This fact will have been of crucial importance when a family of southern princes appears to have determined on the uniﬁcation of the Valley. Long before this point, however, many of the indigenous elements which were evident in Egypt in historical times were already of immense antiquity.