33 THE EGYPTIAN PRESENCE IN NUBIA The geographical term Nubia refers to the great ex- panse of desert south of the First Cataract of the Nile, between the modern city of Aswan in Egypt and the regions of the Upper Nile valley, in north-east Africa, as far as Khartoum, the capital of present-day Sudan. This region, with landforms similar to those of Up- per Egypt, has moderately high mountain ranges and extensive stony deserts, giving way in some places to narrow strips of fertile land along the Nile. Ever since ancient times, this region has been the point of con- tact between the cultures of Central Africa and Egypt, shown by the cultural exchanges between indigenous populations. The Egyptians always showed great interest inNubia which, besides being a chan- nel for importing exotic products from the heart of Africa, was rich in minerals, timber and gold deposits. Yet there is not plentiful evidence for Egyptian presence in Nubia, es- pecially during ancient times, when the region was essentially considered a repository of natural and human resources, which could be exploited by expeditions or occasional raids. Starting from the 3rd Millennium BC, the historical record is enriched with new documents that help us understand this relationship more fully. The first expeditions to Nubia for which there are sufficient records date to the 1st and 2nd Dynasties, between 3000 and 2592 BC, and were made by the Pharaohs Aha and Khasekhemwy. However, it was not until the reign of Sneferu (2543-2510 BC), the first king of the 4th Dynasty, that there is clear information about a new campaign in Nubia, which brought back thousands of men and over 200,000 head of cattle. These numbers are undoubtedly exaggerated, but they give an idea of the raids carried out in the region. Some graffiti found in the di- orite quarries, in the Dakhla oasis in the eastern desert, testifies to the Egyptian presence during this period. A stable “colonial” presence is, however, also attested at the town of Buhen. This was an important military center in the following period, but was already in- habited during the 4th Dynasty. Nubia thus became a frontier territory, a point of contact with southern cultures and a favored destination for commercial expeditions. Evidence is provided by an autobiographical inscription carved on the walls of the tomb of Her- khuf, a dignitary of Elephantine, an island in the Nile near Aswan, who lived during the 6th Dynasty (2305-2118 BC). It tells of four expeditions made to the South and lists the substantial resources brought back to Egypt, including a dwarf dancer presented to the Pharaoh Pepi II (2216-2153 BC). PAGE 30 Egyptian seated on a colossal figure of the king from the Great Temple of Ramesses II in Abu Simbel, March 29, 1850. In October 1849 Maxime Du Camp had set out for the East in the company of his friend, Gustave Flaubert. During the first eight months they ascended the Nile through Egypt and Nubia, Du Camp taking photographs for his account of their travels and Flaubert making copious notes for a novel he never wrote. Title page of Description de l’Égypte , ou Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’expédition de l’armée française , published between 1809 and 1828. THE EGYPTIAN PRESENCE IN NUBIA