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By Nehemia Levtzion

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The idea that food production originated in the Near East and spread through Africa where it was eagerly adopted by starving hunter-gatherers is untenable. Study of modern forager-hunters suggests that some can obtain more nutrients with less effort and more freedom than most herdsmen or agriculturalists. Skeletal evidence from the Nilotic Sudan suggests that one consequence of food-production there was malnutrition. Another was probably disease, for several infectious human diseases were probably contracted from domestic animals, while the clearing of land for agriculture encouraged malaria and the larger populations of food-producing societies sustained diseases that could not have survived among scattered forager-hunters.

It also gave Napata its first discovered iron object: a spearhead wrapped in gold foil and found in the tomb of King Taharqa (690–664 bc). The Saite rulers who expelled Taharqa’s successors from Egypt followed up their victory by attacking Napata in 593 bc. At some point thereafter, the capital moved still further south to Meroe, the most southerly junction between the desert road and the Nile, above the Fifth Cataract. Here the state, already ancient, was to survive for well over five hundred years, but in changing form.

As often happened in later African history, conquest of an empire changed the central structure of the state. Under the New Kingdom, for the first time, Egypt had a militaristic ethos and a large professional army, mostly composed of foreign mercenaries, whose control became the key to the throne. There was also a small police force. Pharaohs reestablished strong central power, aided by the resources in manpower and material that empire provided. Yet this was also an ancient, wealthy, urbane, and pluralistic society, for which the Old Kingdom pyramids were already tourist attractions.

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