Science of Nubiology

The Temple of Isis
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 Coptic times.
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.


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