At a recent meeting in the University Museum, Mrs. Nicholas Roosevelt told us that she remembered with nostalgia Sir Leonard Woolley’s camp at Abu Simble near the base of the colossal figures of Rameses II. That was fifty years ago and Sir Leonard was then representing the University Museum in an earlier “crash program” for archaeological salvage in Nubia prior to the raising of the present Aswan dam.
Last month, our party from Philadelphia and New Haven was camped at the same spot, nearly two hundred miles above Aswan and just north of the Sudan border, plotting a campaign for the combined efforts of the Peabody Museum of Yale and the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in the salvage work which must be done before the new High dam is completed. Russians and Egyptians are now very busy a few miles above the Aswan on the new earth dam which will flood three hundred miles of the Nile Valley and submerge more than twenty ancient Egyptian temples as well as many unexcavated archaeological sites. The most spectacular, and the most difficult to protect, is Abu Simble, a fantastic temple cut into a rock cliff about 1275 B.C. by Rameses II to the god Amon. We landed our diesel powered patrol boat, the “Amada” (a loan from the German Archaeological Mission) at Abu Simble just at sunset and, like everyone who has seen the vast stone-cut figures of Rameses in the red glow of the desert sun, we shall remember them the rest of our lives.
There is another beautiful temple on the Island of Philae, built in Greek and Roman times, which stands just north of the present Aswan dam. In late summer when the flood gates are opened, it emerges from the waters for a brief period, but in the spring only the pylons are visible and seem to float upon the reservoir. When the High dam is finished, it will remain permanently submerged in the reservoir between the two dams. This temple could be saved by relatively small coffer dams which would isolate from the waters the Island of Philae and six hundred acres of rich land.
The Governments of the United Arab Republic and the Sudan have asked the rest of the world to assist them in preserving such world-famed monuments in Nubia and in excavating ancient sites which, with the building of the dam, will be lost for all time. UNESCO has organized an international campaign for recording, preservation, and excavation, and now several nations have moved in with survey parties, engineers, and archaeologists to do what they can in the next few years before Nubia becomes a vast lake.
There is a clause in the Mutual Security Act of the United States for 1960 which makes it possible for the President of the United States to allocate some of the so-called counterpart funds now in Egypt for the international archaeological salvage program. There is also a U.S. Committee for the Preservation of the Nubian Monuments. Three American institutions, the Oriental Institute in Chicago, Peabody Museum at Yale, and the University Museum, have announced their intentions to carry on excavations in the threatened area. Thus Americans have expressed their concern, with other nations, at the possible loss of cultural monuments and historical data that are irreplaceable.