Lost Nubia

The fantastic pyramids of Athanasius Kircher whose picture we have just published, scowl very improbably, like inverted icicles scattered over on the sand of the desert. However, such pyramids do exist. Even if not these, and not where Kircher placed them.

These pyramids stand in Nubia, to the south of the first cataract, the traditional border of Egypt. Nubia had been in commercial connection with Egypt since the times preceding the pharaohs, delivering the exotic trasures of Black Africa, ivory, tropical trees and black slaves for the empire. From 1500 BC for about four centuries the pharaohs were also lords of Nubia. It was then that Ramses II built his rock temple here at Abu Simbel. In turn, in the 8th century BC the revived Nubian kingdom of Napata occupied all Egypt and ruled over it as the 25th dynasty until the Assyrian invasion.

Pyramid and chapel of a Meroitic king (photo: 1906)

These steep pyramids standing in the region of Napata are the graves of the Nubian pharaohs. There are more of them than the total number of pyramids ever built in Egypt. Their height does not remain under that of the Egyptian pyramids, but the width of their basis is only a fifth of that.

Colossus of Ramses II at the entrance of his rock temple at Abu Simbel (1906)

These photos were taken by James Henry Breasted, Director of the Oriental Museum of Chicago (later Oriental Institute) during his two Nubian expeditions.

James Henry Breasted copying inscriptions of king Thutmose III (ca. 1500 BC) in the Temple of Horus (1906)

James Henry Breasted began his studies with Biblical languages, and finally in 1894 he took his doctorate in Egyptology, for the first time in America. He was the founder of Egyptology in the USA, a member of that American generation of scholars that were the first to excavate the rests of the great ancient civilizations from Egypt to Persia. It was also him who coined the famous term “the fertile crescent” for the lands of these civilizations.

Osiride pillars in the hall of the temple of Ptah at Gef Husein (13th c. BC, now under the waters of Lake Nasser) (1906)

James Henry Breasted was the author of the first scholarly History of Egypt in the English language, and he published in 1906 in five volumes the English translations of all the hieroglyphic inscriptions known at that time, a manual still today in use among Egyptologists. (1 2 3 4 5)

Looking along the Nile along the main axis of Dakka temple (1906)

The first – “Low” – Dam of Assuan, completed in 1902 started to cause regular inundations in the temples and necropoles of Lower Nubia. International Egyptology – a young science at that time – immediately realized the danger. Breasted was able to convince the sponsors of Chicago University (first of all Rockefeller Jr.) to support an expedition for the survey of the endangered Nubian monuments.

James Henry Breasted, his wife the concert pianist Frances Hart and their son Charles, the later biographer of his father (1906)

The expedition whose staff included besides the Breasted family also two German photographers, Friedrich Koch (1905-6) and Horst Schliephack (1906-7), left from Assuan in the winter of 1905. They traveled against the stream on the Nile, photographing and copying all the inscriptions they encountered on the way.

Friedrich Koch photographing in the interior of the Great Temple at Abu Simbel (1906)

Photographing the Great Stela of Thutmose I at Tumbos (1907)

The expedition that finished in the spring of 1907 has left to us about 1200 photos, all digitized and published by the Oriental Institute. By clicking on the placenames on the map of the expedition you can watch all the photos made on the respective place.

Rock-cut graffiti recording the heights of the Nile flood, 1900-1750 BC (1907)

In 1959 Egypt decided to build the High Dam of Assuan with the support of the Soviet Union. The reservoir behind the 100 meters high dam started to be filled with water in 1964. By 1970 all the ancient Nubia got under water. The Nubian population which had its own language and culture was deported and resettled all over Egypt. They also included the descendants of the Hungarian captives carried off by the Turks in the 1500s: about this peculiar story we want to write more later.

Caravan of the Breasted expedition in Nubia, at the third cataract (1907)

A teacher holding class in a Nubian village on the island of Argo (1907)

Nubian funeral ceremonies in the shadow of the Sacred Mountain (1906)

Beginning with 1960 the Egyptologists of the world achieved a rush job to saving the monuments of the zone. They made a large number of excavations and replaced several smaller monuments as well as the twenty-four large temples. However, this was only a fragment of the Nubian monuments: the rest was flooded by the Nasser Lake. A part of these has survived only on the photos of the Breasted expedition.

Head of an unfinished granite colossus of an unknown Napatan king (5-4th c. BC) at Gebel Barkal

1 comentario:

Μαριανα dijo...

What a great post! I'm wondering their lives there.