The Temple of Isis of the Ptolemaic Period, which was originally
located on the island of Philae, now dominates the island of
Agilkia. After the construction of the Aswan Dam (1898-1912),
the island of Philae was completely out of the water only from
August through December. The waters controlled by the High Dam
(completed in 1971) would have covered it. Therefore, the temple
was moved in the late 1960s, but it is still known as Philae
Temple. As tourist boats approach the island of Agilkia from the
east, Trajanís Kiosk (left) balances the Temple of Isis (right).
The layout of the temple is apparent from this vantage point:
from the left, first pylon, open court, second pylon, covered
hypostyle hall, sanctuary.
Ptolemaic Temple of Isis
This view of the Ptolemaic Temple of Isis (Philae Temple) is
from the west and illustrates well the Egyptian use of the post
and lintel system of construction. This view also demonstrates
the layout of the temple: from the right, first pylon, open
court, second pylon, covered hypostle hall, sanctuary.
In 1958, Gamel Abdel Nasser, president of
Egypt, decided to build a high dam at Aswan. The Egyptians
wanted it to control the flooding of the Nile and to generate
electrical power for themselves. Unfortunately the lake created
by the dam would completely flood Lower Nubia and destroy all of
the ancient Nubian sites in Egypt. The waters would also
inundate about 70 miles (110 km) of the Sudan. Because of the
building of the dam, a huge international emergency effort was
organized to rescue Nubia's archaeological treasures and
heritage before they were lost forever. Thus, between 1959 and
1967, over 40 international teams worked together to explore 300
miles of the Nile Valley. They discovered thousands of ancient
sites and objects, which are now in museums the world over.
Three complete Nubian temples were removed altogether and may
now be seen in New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art), in Leiden,
Holland (Museum van der Oudheden), and in Barcelona, Spain. Many
others were taken down and restored on higher ground. This great
effort made Lower Nubia, archaeologically, one of the best known
regions of the world and created the discipline of "Nubiology."
After the flooding of Lower Nubia and with the passage of time,
many of the Nubiologists in the 1970's began to look south to
continue their researches.
The Nubia salvage project
The oriental institute participated in the UNESCO international
salvage excavation project in the reservoir area of the Aswan
High Dam in Upper Egypt in 1960-64. The project was directed by
Keith Seele, Professor of Egyptology at the Institute. The
expedition was based on the former Cook tourist boat "Fostat",
accompanied by another houseboat, a tug boat, and a motor
launch, all purchased and modified to provide mobile housing,
laboratories and storage space. In the first season the project
produced an epigraphic record of the Beit El-Wali Temple, near
the High Dam. In subsequent seasons the expedition moved its
little fleet up the Nile to a new concession between the temples
at Abu Simbel and the border of the Sudanese Republic.
Excavations were conducted in a monastery, at habitation sites,
and in a number of cemeteries extending for miles along both
banks of the Nile. These excavations contributed information on
every period of Egyptian Nubia from the Old Kingdom through
After the death of Professor Seele in 1971, the Institute
initiated a project to complete the publication of the results
of the Egyptian Nubia excavations. The publication project was
entrusted to Bruce Williams, Ph.D., a graduate of the University
of Chicago in Egyptology. The first two volumes were published
before Williams was assigned to the project. Since then Williams
has completed eight monumental monographs (1986-93) that will
stand as the fundamental sources for the archaeology and history
of Egyptian Nubia. Williams is currently working on two
additional volumes. Another two volumes are also in preparation
by collaborators, including one Ph.D. dissertation. Williams has
devoted his entire academic career to the Nubia publications.
His dedication is admirable and the Institute takes pride in the
fact that the Nubia publication project is near completion.
Because the Nubian expedition was a part of the UNESCO salvage
project, the Egyptian Government granted export license for a
large collection of objects recovered by the expedition. These
artifacts are now a part of the permanent collection of the
Institute and will serve as a valuable resource for generations
of scholars as new questions are raised and new techniques of
analysis are introduced. Two museum exhibitions of Nubian
materials from the collection have been mounted; one of
magnificent textiles at the Art Institute, and a fine
educational exhibition in the Oriental Institute Museum. The
exhibit in our museum, Vanished Kingdoms of the Nile: The
Recovery of Ancient Nubia, attracted many enthusiastic new
visitors to the museum and received a "Superior Achievement"
award from the Congress of Illinois Historical Societies and
Museums in 1992, as well as considerable press coverage,
including a favorable review in the New York Times.