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The Faiyum Depression in Egypt

Read: *** Fayum *** in the Ancient History Encyclopedia

Read: *** Feiyoom *** from Page 503 of the Eighth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1855)

Period Paper
1929 Faiyum Egypt Village Pigeon House

The Faiyum region consists of a large fertile depression covering 12000 square kilometers in the Libyan Desert located about 60 kilometers southwest of Cairo. The region incorporates archaeological sites dating from the late Paleolithic to the late Roman and Christian periods (circa 8000 BC - AD 641). Until the Paleolithic period a vast salt water lake lay at the heart of the region. This was gradually transformed into the smaller fresh water Lake Moeris which is linked to the Nile by a river arm known as the Bahr Yusuf. The region flourished from the Middle Kingdom (2055 - 1650 BC) onwards but most of the surviving archaeological remains date to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The Greeks called the capital city of the Faiyum Crocodilopolis for it was sacred to the crocodile god Sobek who was worshipped there (1) ...

"Fayum" comes from the Greek phiom meaning "lake" -- the token of its past. Pronounced "fei-'yoom" and spelled variously over time (Fayum, Faiyûm, Fayum, Fayyum, Feiyum), the Fayum once cradled Egypt's largest cultivated area. The ancient lake “phiom” refers to is “Moeris” which once nurtured an amazing variety of life.

Life with Moeris

For thousands of years Lake Moeris and its prehistoric predecessors dominated the 12,000 square kilometers of the desert-bound Fayum depression. Life took sustenance from Moeris and the lush environs it enabled, the waters of the Moeris sustaining a seasonal rhythm to life forms of all sorts.

The earliest humans in the recorded history of the Fayum basin based their existence, their agricultural, commercial, cultural and religious practices on the cyclical growing seasons enabled by the waters of Moeris. With vital and continuous sustenance from the waters and soils of the Nile Valley this oasis became a huge and thriving nugget of life in the sand.

The prehistoric Fayum lakes existed in stages that take the names of “Moeris”. These successions are marked by distinguishable fluctuations in volumes of water and shoreline occupied. Natural changes in the lake levels were caused by evaporation and replenishment by seasonal flooding in the Nile valley. But other natural events caused dramatic non-seasonal fluctuations as well such as shifts in the carving rivers of the Nile valley and earthquakes.

The Fayum area with Lake Moeris in the centre, fed by a side stream of the Nile coming in from the left which was channelled off in order to increase the cultivated area. The pyramids at Meidum and Hawara were based near the new areas of cultivation ...

(1) Notes From Diary: Fayum Trip 1907 (based on the expedition diary and photographs of Walter Granger) by Vincent Morgan and Spencer Lewis (2002)

Updated August 2nd 2020

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