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That the Egyptians recognized an elemental chemistry — the word khem is a very old name for the black alluvium of the Nile delta, and thus, by synecdoche, for Egypt itself — is argued at some length by R.A. Schwaller de Lubizc in his titanic book on the temple of A.et of the South at Luxor, The Temple of Man (Inner Traditions International, Rochester, VT: in press). observes, "a popular belief in the four as somehow basic ingredients in nature was much older," possibly a borrowing from Egypt.
These words have come to us by a somewhat circuitous route, through the Arabic; the original word khem having first been picked up by the Arab conquerors of Egypt, and by them handed on to the Barbary Moors, who carried it to Spain, whence it has spread through Europe.
The first sign is a syllabic hieroglyph standing for khem – "black."
An evidence of entrepreneurial activity among the locals are bundles of khem - long grass used to make brooms - one of the largest non-timber forest product sectors in Laos - earning extra income for Lao villagers.