Mapping the Physiographic Features of Egypt and the Near East
Teacher’s Guide to Physiographic Features
Question 1: What is the longest river in Africa?
Answer: Nile River
The Nile River is the longest river in the world, stretching 4,160 miles. It flows northward from its headstream in central Africa to its delta on the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile runs through parts of Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire. At six places along the Nile, crystalline rocks form cataracts, or stretches of rapids and waterfalls that are not navigable. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Egypt was "the gift of the Nile" because its waters supported large-scale agriculture, made transportation easier, and provided a variety of edible plants and animals.

Question 2: What ocean lies east of Africa?
Answer: Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third-largest ocean in the world, extending from south Asia to Antarctica, and from east Africa to west Australia. The average depth of the ocean’s floor is 11,000 feet. Little trade took place across the Indian Ocean until approximately 200 B.C.E., when Arabs learned how to propel their ships using the seasonal winds in the region.

Question 3: What is the large body of water that separates Africa from Europe?
The Mediterranean Sea is the world’s largest inland sea. Surrounded by Europe, Africa, and Asia, it covers an area of approximately 965,000 square miles. The Mediterranean Sea connects with the Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea via the Aegean Sea. The shores of the sea are mainly mountainous. Fish (close to 400 species), sponges, and corals are abundant in the sea. The ancient Egyptians were afraid to sail on the Mediterranean, and so they relied on traders from other lands to bring them goods from Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and Canaan.

Question 4: What is the sea south of the Sinai Peninsula that is linked to the Indian Ocean?
Answer: Red Sea
The Red Sea is a long, narrow sea that sits between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez are the sea’s northern arms; between them sits the Sinai Peninsula. The Red Sea is linked with the Indian Ocean by the Gulf of Aden. Because it is surrounded by excessively hot and dry deserts and steppes, summer water temperatures often exceed 85º F. According to the Hebrew Bible, Moses parted the Red Sea so that the ancient Israelites could escape from the pursuing Egyptian army, and put an end to their captivity in Egypt under the Pharaoh Ramesses II.

Question 5: What chain of mountains is located in the southern part of modern Turkey?
Answer: Taurus Mountains
The Taurus Mountains are a chain of mountains in southern Turkey that extend approximately 350 miles, roughly parallel to the Mediterranean coast of southern Asia Minor. These mountains form the southern border of the Anatolian plateau. The highest peak of the Taurus, at the range’s eastern end, rises 12,251 feet. The range contains important mineral deposits, such as copper and tin, over which various groups in ancient Mesopotamia sought to gain control.

Question 6: What body of water lies between the Arabian Peninsula and modern Iran?
Answer: Persian Gulf
The Persian Gulf lies between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. It is an arm of the Arabian Sea, which is a branch of the Indian Ocean. The Gulf is approximately 200 miles wide, is very shallow, and contains many islands. In ancient times, the Persian Gulf was an important transportation route, but most transport declined with the fall of Mesopotamia in the fourth century B.C.E.

Question 7: What river flows southeast across modern Iraq, near the city of Baghdad?
Answer: Tigris River
The Tigris River originates in the Taurus Mountains in Turkey and flows 1,180 miles southeast through Iraq, where it meets the Euphrates River. The Tigris is subject to sudden flooding, but is navigable in most places. In ancient times, some of the great cities of Mesopotamia stood on the banks of the Tigris, depending on its water for survival and using it as an important transportation route.

Question 8: What river is located southwest of the Tigris River and flows southeast to the Persian Gulf?
Answer: Euphrates River
The Euphrates River originates in central Turkey and flows 2,235 miles south into Syria, then southeast through Iraq, where it meets the Tigris River. When joined, the two rivers form the Shatt al Arab River, which flows to the Persian Gulf. The Euphrates is shallow and largely unnavigable.

Question 9: What mountain range is located east of the Tigris River, in the southwestern part of Iran?
Answer: Zagros Mountains
The Zagros Mountains originate in western Iran, extending approximately 1,100 miles southeast. The Zagros are rugged, forested, and snowcapped mountains in the northwest, but in the southwest they are low, rolling hills covered with bare rock and sand dunes. The northern portion of the chain is home to fertile valleys that support agriculture and a heavy population. In the oases of the southeastern Zagros, dates and cereals are grown. In ancient times, nomads such as the Medes often swept down from the central Zagros into Mesopotamia to try to conquer new territory and obtain goods that they could not produce.

Question 10: What desert lies west of the Nile River and covers parts of modern Egypt, Libya, and Sudan?
Answer: Libyan Desert
The Libyan Desert is the northeastern part of Africa’s Sahara Desert, the largest desert in the world. The Libyan Desert covers parts of southwestern Egypt, eastern Libya, and northwestern Sudan. The region consists primarily of sand dunes; coarse, stony plains; and plateaus of bare rock. Although its hot, dry climate is harsher and more forbidding than that of Egypt’s eastern deserts, the oases of this region were famed in ancient times for their wines and agricultural products.

Question 11: What desert lies in modern Egypt between the Nile River and the Red Sea?
Answer: Arabian Desert
The Arabian Desert is the eastern desert of Egypt. It runs from the Nile River in the west to the Red Sea and Gulf of Suez in the east. The desert is mountainous and rutted by deep, dry riverbeds. The ancient Egyptians used its abundant quarries of granite, feldspar, and other materials for many of their building projects.

Question 12: What triangular area, bordered by water on three sides, connects the continents of Africa and Asia?
Answer: Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula, which is approximately 23,000 square miles, lies in northeastern Egypt. The peninsula extends north into a broad isthmus—a strip of land with water on both sides that connects two larger land masses— connecting Asia and Africa. The Sinai’s climate is hot and dry and the land is sparsely vegetated, but rich in minerals. In ancient times, copper, turquoise, and other stones were mined in the south. There, too, Egyptian pharaohs of the New Kingdom left rock inscriptions marking the eastern boundary of Egypt’s empire. Mount Sinai, located on the southeastern side of the peninsula, is said to be the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

Question 13: What body of water is fed by the Jordan River and lies south of the Sea of Galilee?
Answer: Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is actually a salt lake and covers approximately 400 square miles. It is located on the Israel-Jordan border. It has the lowest altitude of any point on earth, being 1,292 feet below sea level. The lake is fed by a series of small streams and the Jordan River, and sits between steep, rocky cliffs that are over one-half mile high in places. The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest lakes in the world. In ancient times, the salt was mined and then traded through Africa and the Near East.

Question 14: What river flows through the Sea of Galilee and into the Dead Sea?
Answer: Jordan River
The Jordan River is over 200 miles long. Originating in Israel’s Hula Basin in the north, it meanders south through the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. While the river is turbulent and deep during the rainy season, it turns into a slow-moving, shallow stream in the summer. In ancient times, the Jordan River provided a natural barrier, protecting the Israelites from invaders who were deterred from crossing it.

Question 15: What mountain range runs parallel to the Mediterranean Sea from Lebanon into Syria?
Answer: Lebanon Mountains
The Lebanon Mountain range, approximately 100 miles long, runs parallel to the Mediterranean Sea from southern Lebanon into Syria. This range was renowned in ancient times for the enormous old cedars that extended in a narrow strip for 85 miles along its western slope. In ancient times, years of harvesting the trees for building material and fuel depleted all but a small number of the cedar groves.

Question 16: What desert is located between the Sinai Peninsula and the Dead Sea?
Answer: Negev Desert
This hilly, arid desert region, also called the Negeb Desert, lies in southern Israel. Covering approximately 5,140 square feet, the Negev Desert typically receives only 2 to 4 inches of rainfall each year. It was in the Negev that the ancient Israelites lived as nomads, tending flocks of sheep, herds of goats, and donkeys, until they settled in Canaan.

Question 17: What term is used to refer to the northernmost region of the Nile River, which is roughly shaped like a triangle?
Answer: Nile Delta
The delta of the Nile River is a triangle-shaped region located north of Cairo, in northeastern Egypt. Originally, as many as seven branches of the Nile wound through the delta. The delta contains 60 percent of Egypt’s cultivated land, large areas of marshy wetlands, and shallow lakes. During ancient times, the Egyptians took advantage of the region’s rich soil, gentle winds, and level landscape to develop an extremely productive agricultural system.

Question 18: What desert lies mostly south of Egypt between the Nile River and the Red Sea?
Answer: Nubian Desert
The Nubian Desert is located in northeast Africa, between the Nile River and the Red Sea. It is an approximately 97,000-square-mile region of the Sahara Desert. Primarily a sandstone plateau, this arid region has numerous wadis, or dry watercourses, which fill with water that flows to the Nile during periods of heavy rainfall. The ancient Kushites mined copper and gold from the desert, and traded these metals to Egypt for linen and grain.

Question 19: What large body of land is bordered on the northeast by the Persian Gulf, on the southeast by the Indian Ocean, and on the west by the Red Sea?
Answer: Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is located south of Mesopotamia and covers 1,000,000 square miles. It is bordered on the northeast by the Persian Gulf, on the southeast by the Indian Ocean, and on the west by the Red Sea. It is made of a large plateau, or raised level land, composed of limestone and sandstone. The interior is mostly arid desert, while the coastal regions have a much more humid climate. In ancient times, the vast stretches of desert on the Arabian Peninsula prevented complete military conquests of the land.

Question 20: What desert lies west of the Euphrates River and north of the Arabian Peninsula?
Answer: Syrian Desert
The Syrian Desert lies between the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates River valley. It stretches from southeast Syria to the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula. In ancient times, nomadic tribes crossed this vast, arid desert along the trade routes from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean coast

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