Unseen Passage: Deserts

Deserts, despite a reputation in some quarters as a barren and useless wasteland or as problems to be solved, have been a way of life for many different peoples. Ancient Egyptian society began along the fertile banks of the River Nile which is buffered on both sides by hot and dry desert which they saw as vital to their culture. Some attribute the arid environment of the Egyptian interior to the development of their complex culture and especially their rituals and cults surrounding death. It is particularly believed that the desiccated nature of bodies as found in the desert dying of exposure or from natural causes provided inspiration for their experiments and developments leading to the mummification process. Certainly, the dry environment of western Egypt where the pyramids are located would have been the perfect environment to prevent the sort of cadaver degradation seen in biomes with higher precipitation and humidity. Similar theories have been expressed about the development of mummification in the South American culture of the Chinchorro who lived in the Atacama Desert, quite possibly the driest desert on the planet.

Even before this, the deserts have provided useful environments for resources and hunter-gathering. Various tribes of Native Americans made their homes in the deserts of North and Central America, as did the Kalahari Bushmen and Australian aborigines. Deserts are ideal for tracking animals and provide enough food in the right volumes to support huntergathering communities. It’s no wonder we find so much archaeological remains in deserts. Firstly, they were well-used by people of the ancient past and secondly, the lack of humidity increases the chances of survival of organic material. Other cultures quickly adopted seminomadic lifestyle and took livestock with them on long journeys across the desert, learning locations of water and living off the animal produce, using animal skins as tents for shelter, and utilizing other parts of the animal such as milk, bones, and meat. Even today, people such as the Bedouin still roam the deep deserts of the planet although their lifestyle is more semi-nomadic.

Q. On the basis of your reading and understanding of the above passage, answer the following:

  1. Where did the ancient Egyptian society begin? Which expression in para 1 refers to deserts ?
  2. Where are the pyramids found? What leads to the mummification process ?
  3. Whom did the deserts support before the Egyptian Society began there? Deserts were made home by which Native American tribes ?
  4. How did people adopt to the desert ?
  5. Identify a synonym of the word ‘arid’ from para 1.
  6. The word ‘cadaver’ means a
    1. a corpse
    2. a mummy
    3. a carcass
    4. both (1) and (3)
  7. The word in para 2 which means an animal, person or plant that has been there in a country or region from earliest times is
    1. ancient
    2. organic
    3. archaeological
    4. aborigine
  8. Give an antonym of the word ‘prevent’ in para. 1

Answers

  1. The ancient Egyptian society began along the fertile banks of river Nile. ‘Useless wasteland’ is the expression that refers to deserts.
  2. The pyramids are found in western Egypt. The desiccated nature of bodies as found in the desert dying of exposure or from natural causes lead to the mummification process.
  3. The deserts supported the hunter-gathering communities before the Egyptian society began. Deserts were made home by Kalahari Bushmen and Australian aborigines.
  4. Some of the ways in which people adopted to the desert are living off the animal produce, using animal skins as tents for shelter and utilizing other parts of the animal such as milk, bones and meat.
  5. desiccated
  6. both (1) and (3)
  7. aborigine
  8. allow or cause

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