Armchair Archaeology: Kom Ombo Nilometer

An important duty of priests and record keepers throughout ancient Egypt was to monitor and measure the height of the Nile. Priests knew from their regular astronomical observations that the heliacal rising of the star Sopdet (Sirius) meant that the annual Inundation (flooding) which was vital for Egypt's agriculture was imminent. The Egyptians called this Peret-Sopdet or the Coming forth of Sopdet.

Without the Nile's unique features and behaviour it can be argued that ancient Egyptian civilisation as we now understand it would either not have existed or been in a very different form to that we recognise today.
Fragment of a statue of Hapy bearing a tray of agricultural
 produce. British Museum. Photo: Aakheperure 2016

The complex and numerous sources of the Nile which lie far to the south, and the reason for the Inundation were not known by the ancient Egyptians, who ascribed the annual rising of the life giving waters and their rich volcanic silt deposits to the actions of gods such as ram-headed fertility god Khnum who opened mystical gates at Aswan or the return of the goddess Hathor from her desert sojourn.

The Nile itself was personified as the deity Hapy - a hermaphroditic god that symbolised the bounty that the water of the Nile brought Egypt each year at the conclusion of a successful harvest.

The extent to which the Nile rose was of critical importance to the ancient Egyptians.

Too little water and the crops would fail, but likewise, too much would be equally disastrous. Information regarding the extent of the Inundation was used to calculate taxation and plan for the release of vital supplies from the country's vast magazines of grain stores.

To measure the extent of the Nile level, the Egyptians built Nilometers. Nilometers could be constructed in a variety of ways and were located in close proximity to the river so that its level could be directly measured in set increments (cubits). A Nilometer could be:
A column
A stairway
A well
Or a combination of those architectural features. People living near bodies of water or in flood prone areas (for example near bridges) have probably seen the first two methods to measure water level in their everyday life today in the form of traffic signs, marks on bridge pylons or on dock walls.

Now you can do your priestly duties without even getting your feet wet by exploring this terrific 3D model of the Nilometer at the Temple of Kom Ombo in southern Egypt made by Mohammed.

This Nilometer was constructed in the Roman period and lies to the north-west of the main temple complex (circled on map). The course of the Nile may have been closer to the temple in ancient times. (The course of the river has moved continuously and this is not unusual).

This model was made using Photogrammetry and software, a technique that is gaining popularity in creating models in Egyptology both in the field and to record artefacts in museums. Instead of using laser scanning devices in a survey, the models are assembled from photographs which are then processed by software to create 3D models. The results are impressive.

Click on the link below to explore this interesting measuring device at the temple for yourself.

Note: These models can be quite large and may take some time to load but are well worth a look.

Nilometer_KomOmbo Temple_UpperEgypt - 3D model by Mohammed (@tornado2011)

Kom Ombo Temple_In the North Western section of the complex of kom ombo temple is a circular well that was used as a Nilometer, a tool that the ancient Egyptians used to measure the level of the water of the Nile, similar to the one located in the Rhoda Island in Cairo.