49 THE ANCIENT BOTANY.
 
Home
Title page
Contents
Search

 

 

and the small yellow chrysanthemum. Among the fruits, we have represented in Mr. Petrie's collection, the almond, peach, cherry, currant, grape-vine, mulberry, fig, pomegranate, olive, carob, and walnut. And among the vegetables we have the cabbage, onion, peas, beans, fiat peas, lupins, chick peas) and coriander. This remarkable "find" of plant-rernains at Hawara well illustrates the passage in Strabo's "Geographia" relating to the extreme fertility of the Fayûm. "The Arsinoite Nome," he writes, "is the most remarkable of all, both on account of its scenery and its fertility and cultivation. For it alone is planted with large, perfect, and richly productive olive-trees, and the oil is good when carefully prepared; those who are neglectful may, indeed, obtain oil in abundance, but it has a bad smell. In the rest of Egypt the olive-tree is never seen, except in the gardens of Alexandria, where under favourable circumstances they yield olives, but no oil. Vines, corn, podded plants, and many other products also thrive in this district in no small abundance."

91. Besides the plant-remains from Hawara, Mr. Petrie has also discovered a considerable quantity at Kahun. These, though they date from the remote period of the Xllth dynasty (and are, consequently, among the oldest vegetable remains which have yet been found in Egypt), are in a remarkably good state of preservation. They are chiefly interesting from the fact that they tell us the species of plants and fruit-trees which were grown in the gardens and orchards, and the cereals which were cultivated in the fields, of Egypt prior to the time of Abraham. The fruit-tree which appears to have been the commonest (for several hundred of its fruits and fruit stones have been found) was the Balanites Aegyptiaca, Del., a small tree, now known in Abyssinia by the Arabic name of Heglig. At the present day this tree is widely distributed in North Tropical Africa, from Senegal to Abyssinia, but it does not now occur in Egypt in the wild state. Indeed, but very few cultivated specimens are now to be found in Egypt, and these are only to be met with in the gardens of the larger towns. (See Ascherson, " Garten Flora," 1876, p. 70; Delile, "Déser. de l'Egypte," Hist. Nat. vol. ii, p. 223 ; F. Unger, "Sitzs. der K. Akad. der Wissenshaften in Wien," Naturw. Classe, xxxviii, Bd. No. 23; "Revue Horticole," 1889, p. 187.) In early times, however, the tree must have had a far wider distribution, for stones of its fruits have been frequently found in the ancient tombs at Gizeh, Thebes, Dakhel, and various other sites in Lower and Upper Egypt (See "Zeits. für Ethnologie," 1877, s. 308; and "Sitzs. der Berl. anthropol. Gesellschaft," 1875, s. 58 ; Fr. Woenig, "Die Pflanzen im Alten Aegypten," p. 48.*) At the present day great quantities of the fruit are consumed by the different tribes of Central Africa, though, according to Rohlfs ("Quer durch Africa," Bd. ii, p. 11; see also "Botan. Zeitung" 1874, spalte 617), the fruit has a by no means pleasant taste. Another fruit esteemed by the Egyptians of the XIIth dynasty was that of the Dellach palm-tree (Hyphaene argun, Mart.). Thirty stones of this palm were discovered at Kahun, and, that they belong to this species and not to the allied form H. thebaica, Mart., is clearly shown by their oval shape and by their possessing a ruminated albumen. This palm is not now grown in Egypt, and, so far as is at present known, only inhabits a few valleys of the Nubian desert within the great bed of the Nile between Konisko and Abu Hamed. "Its present range," says Magnus, "is touched by the desert road, traversed from the earliest times, which connects Lower Nubia with that tract of the Nile Valley in which the ancient kingdom of Meroë flourished, the relations of which to Egyptian culture are well known." ("Journal of Botany," February, 1877.)

The Dom palm, though not uncommon in Egypt at the present day, appears (if we may judge from the number of its fruits which have been discovered at Kahun and elsewhere in Egypt) to have also had a wider distribution in ancient times. It was called the mama, and it is often mentioned in the ancient literature of Egypt It sometimes grew to a height of sixty cubits (see "Sallier Papyrus," No.1, Pl. VIII, l.4), and its fruit, called huku or hukt (Lepsius, "Denkmaler." vol. iv, Pl. XXIII, e), was much esteemed. The Mimusops Schimperi, Hochst., perhaps the persea of the ancients, was also grown in Central Egypt in XIIth dynasty times, for both its fruit and leaves have been identified among the Kahun remains. At the present day it is not known in Egypt, only occurring in Central Africa and in Abyssinia. (See "Hawara, Biahmu, and Arsinoë," 59.)

Besides the above four kinds of trees, which were probably far more widely distributed in Egypt in early times, the remains of a few other species occur in Mr. Petrie's Kahun collection, which are still to be


* Mr. Greville Chester found two stones, each of which had been pierced by some species of weevil in a tomb at Thebes. These he gave me to examine, and they are now preserved in the Museum at Kew.

 

 

 


home - previous page - next page