Visiting Egypt has been a bit of a transformative experience for me, or at least it’s given me a bit more perspective on humanity that I didn’t have before.
The thought that keeps bouncing around my head as I tour ruins that are extremely old (and that’s an understatement) is that humans haven’t really changed that much since the time of recorded history.
As I write this, it is March 10th, 2019. I’m sitting on a chair that has four legs (don’t worry, I’ll clarify why that’s important). I’m overlooking the Nile river from the hotel sunset terrace. Below me, one level down, is a pool, plenty of tanning chairs, and a couple dozen travelers relaxing, having cocktails, and listening to some Arabic music that I can’t understand, but is quite lovely.
I’m having a beer. Actually, it’s happy hour, and if you buy two, the third is free, so in all honesty, I’m having three beers.
I’m wearing a linen shirt. It’s white (as most linen is, unless coloring is added), quite comfortable, moisture wicking, anti-microbial, overall just a great fabric that I’m pretty happy I purchased.
Now let’s turn the clock back.
Civilization is known to have started in Mesopotamia. Some scholars argue that it could have also started in Egypt. Regardless, both civilizations sprang up at nearly the same time and in very close proximity, so the Egyptian civilization is without a doubt one of, if not the oldest in the world.
This is because Egypt used to be lush and green, but climate change caused it to slowly dry up and turn to desert. Various tribes and peoples living in the area were forced to converge on the last remaining source of life sustainment, the Nile river. Everything any distance away from the river was desert sand. These tribes, groups, whatever you want to call them, were suddenly forced into close proximity.
And so, they were forced to work together, maybe even discovered that working together is more beneficial than sticking to hunter gatherer groups of 15-20.
That’s when civilization began.
It didn’t take long for the Egyptians to accelerate from small groups to an empire. I can’t even wrap my head around the history of it.
Egypt was united around 3100 BC. That’s over five thousand years ago. Three thousand years before Christ was even a thing. We’ve been to a few places in Europe and thought, “Wow, this was built two hundred years before Christ. That’s so awesome.”
If seeing the history of Europe is awesome, then Egypt’s history is unsettling, because it dwarfs anything else in respect to being “old” and important.
Okay, so we’re in the year 3000 BC. A united empire exists between upper and lower Egypt. This is called the Old Kingdom, and it’s when the pyramids were built. Without a doubt, there were people in this time period doing what I’m doing right now, in an uncannily similar surrounding.
First, there are hieroglyphs of chairs in dozens of tombs. If I traced it and showed you the drawing, you’d probably say it’s a chair from Haverty’s. Seriously, they had elegant curves of the wooden legs, ridged circles at the base, armrests at the proper height, etc. Chairs have not changed much, apparently.
They wore linen quite a bit, but it was a high end fabric because of how difficult it was to produce (a bit easier today I imagine). Linen is also the fabric they wrapped their mummies in.
They invented beer. There’s documentation in hieroglyphs. Not only did they produce it, but hieroglyphs show they consumed it in huge volumes.
They were the second society to actually write things down (they adapted writings from Mesopotamia), and invented a little thing called papyrus.
So, here I sit, drinking my beer, wearing my linen shirt, recording my thoughts on my laptop (rather than papyrus). I am sitting on a simple but elegant chair.
It’s almost comforting to me to be here and look out at the Nile, a river that nourished humanity so early on.
I think a visit to Egypt is worthwhile for anyone that wants to feel connected to earlier humanity. When you see the precision in which they constructed their temples and tombs, you can’t help but be impressed. You can walk up to the stepped pyramid, the oldest known stone structure on the planet, and touch it. In the museum in Cairo, you can see the dagger that was wrapped with King Tut when he was entombed, and believe me, the intricacy of this dagger is mind blowing considering when it was created.
You can see manipulation of society with the oldest tricks in the book, for instance, they’ve found locations set up to be prayer areas for commoners to ask questions of the gods. Of course, you had to make an offering first, but the gods often answered. Little did the commoners know that there were very complex but hidden ducts in the stone structures that allowed the priests to “answer” the prayers if a suitable donation was left.
“I left my life’s savings in gold at the eyes and ears of the gods alleyway and the almighty Ra told me to drink more Ovaltine.”
Lastly, the pyramids were not built by aliens. When you’re here, you can see the first two “prototypes” of pyramids and they aren’t as magnificent as the great pyramids of Giza. The first is stepped levels, the second is “bent” because their original angle was way too steep, and the third is a miniature version of a properly designed pyramid.
They were just like us, using iterations, experimentation, and incremental improvements to move forward. Or I guess I should say we are just like them, because they did it first.