In Ancient Egypt, and up until 1970, the Nile inundation would begin just after the Summer Solstice. The high water with natural nutrients and minerals would annually enrich the fertile soil along the Nile Valley making this area ideal for agriculture. However, the natural flooding varied, and high-water years could destroy the whole crop, while low-water years could create widespread drought and famine. Such natural events would occur periodically through Egypt’s history.
As Egypt’s population grew and technology increased, dams were built to try to control the flooding of the Nile. The island of Philae hosted a large complex of temples including the Temple of Isis. Philae was originally located near the First Cataract of the Nile in Upper Egypt and the rapids and the surrounding area was flooded beginning in 1902 after the construction of the Aswan Low Dam. It was known that the flooding which occurred after completing the dams, would leave the Philae Temple Complex and other ancient temples, artifacts, and structures under water for all time. A team of engineers and archaeologists dismantled the Philae Temples and moved the complex to a nearby island. The Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel was also relocated before the completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1970. Since that time, the natural inundation ended, the floods could be controlled and the water could be stored for later release over multiple years.
The ancient Egyptian Goddess Anuket (also known as Anket or Anukis) was an Old Kingdom goddess related to the Lower Cataracts of the Nile in Upper Egypt near Aswan. Her name means “She Who Embraces” indicating she was probably thought to hold the waters of the Nile during the inundation. Anuket was one of the ancient triad of gods worshiped at Elephantine Island near the First Cataract and she is depicted on the walls of the temple at Abu Simbel. As the goddess associated with Sehel and Elephantine Islands located in the first Nome of Upper Egypt, she was considered goddess of all lands south of Egypt. This area was considered to be the source of the Nile and as such Anuket is one of the key protectors of the river.
Anuket’s sacred animal was the gazelle and she was a huntress. The ancient Egyptians saw gazelles around water, around the Nile, and as a huntress, she was thought to be fast and agile like the gazelle. Anuket was generally depicted as a woman wearing a tall headdress made either of reeds or of ostrich feathers, holding a scepter and often holding an Ankh.
Anuket was originally the daughter of Ra, and later was associated with Setet and Khnum, the Elephantine Triad. These three water deities protected the Nile cataracts, the Nile River and the source of the Nile. At the Philae Temple Complex, Anuket was identified with Nephthys in the Per-Mer, Temple of Love, as well as with Isis, as she embodied the fertile waters of the Nile during the inundation. The Festival of Anuket occurred during the inundation and people threw gold, jewelry, and precious gifts into the Nile to please the Goddess.
The Nile River is still celebrated by modern Egyptians in an annual holiday known as Wafaa El-Nil which occurs for two weeks starting at the end of August. The Goddess must be pleased!