Environment, Insects and the archaeology of Egypt

Publication Type:Book Chapter
Year of Publication:2009
Authors:E. Panagiotakopulu, Buckland P. C.
Editor:A. Dodson, Ikram S.
Book Title:Beyond the Horizon. Studies in Egyptian Art, Archaeology and History in Honour of Barry J. Kemp
Publisher:American University in Cairo Press
City:Cairo, Egypt


Egypt lies in the overlap zone between two biogeographic realms, the Ethiopian (Afro-Tropical), which also includes the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Palaearctic, represented by the warm temperate zone of the Mediterranean. Apparent in its now much depleted vertebrate fauna (cf. Manlius 2000; Manlius and Gautier 1999) and in its flora, where Mediterranean elements extend down into Middle Egypt (Zahran and Willis 1992), the overlap is also evident in its less well-studied insect faunas. Intuitively the Nile provides a natural pathway for African elements to reach the Mediterranean and this would have been more so during the early Holocene when stronger monsoonal circulation made much of the present desert savannah (e.g. Haynes et al. 1989). Yet there are surprisingly few southern species in Egypt’s invertebrate fauna, which is overwhelmingly circum-Mediterranean in its affinities. Egypt has approximately 2,700 recorded species of beetle (Coleoptera). Using the ground beetles, Carabidae, as an example, of the ~200 species recorded from Egypt, >95% are also found in Europe and the Near East, and a similar calculation for the water beetle families Dytiscidae and Haliplidae shows ~42 species of which 64% also occur in Europe. The scale of this overlap declines as distance from the Mediterranean coast increases, but Upper Egypt still shows affinities with the Palaearctic as well as the Ethiopian Realm. Two major factors influence this pattern. One is the complex history of the Nile and its floodplain, with periods during the Quaternary when its flow appears to have failed completely (Said 1993; Butzer 1998). The other is the scale of destruction and redistribution of biota by human activity.

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