In Ancient Egypt, the New Year, Wepet Renpet (literally – the opening of the year), was based on the annual flooding of the Nile River, an earthly cycle which usually coincided with a heavenly cycle as well. In July, priests would watch for the reappearance of the star Sirius after a 70-day absence from view. The star’s return heralded the coming flood and reset the calendar for a new year. Ancients attributed flooding to the gods, but in reality it was due to heavy rains in the Ethiopian highlands.
The New Year was marked with community feasting and a mix of hope and fear. The annual flood left behind rich deposits of silt, which fertilized crops to feed the entire country. Just the right amount of flooding assured a fruitful harvest; too little could mean famine; too much could mean destruction. Flood levels varied from south to north, with higher levels in the south. On average, the river rose about 36 feet. Waters were fully receded in October; then planting began. Since the completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1970, the Nile in Egypt no longer floods.