Elephantine Island is in the centre of the Nile in Aswan.Its ancient name was 'Abu' or ‘Yebu’, which means elephant and was probably derived from the shape of the smooth grey boulders which surround the island,looking like elephants in the water.
The purposeful excuse for visiting Elephantine is to see the scant ruins of Yebu, the ramshackle museum and the ancient Nilometer. For a few piastres, a small ferry will take you over to the island from the Corniche; you cannot get to the rest of Elephantine from the Movenpick compound at the north end of the island.
The Nilometer is under a sycamore tree, a few boat lengths north of embankments bearing inscriptions from the reigns of Thutmosis III and Amenophis III (XVIII Dyn) and Psammetichus II (XXVI Dyn). Its square shat can be entered directly from the river or down steps from above.
Though probably dating from an earlier period, it was rebuilt by the Romans, the scales marked in Greek; it was restored in the last century, when Arabic and French inscriptions were added. Strabo records that' on the side of the well are marks, measuring the height sufficient fir the irrigation and other water levels. There are observed and published for general information.
This is of importance to the peasants for the management of water, the embankments, the canals, etc, and to the officials on account of the taxes. For the higher the rise of water, the higher are the taxes'. The high Dam put an end to the annual inundation, and under Nasser this ancient basis of taxation was abolished.
The more modest fluctuations in the level of the Nile are still measured, however. An American aid-sponsored satellite communications system now tells irrigation engineers in Cairo the level of every waterway in the country.
The ancient town of Yebu stood at the southern end of the island. Its mound is being picked clean of debris by archeologists, revealing mud brick structures of successive levels of occupation. Excavations began at the beginning of this century after the discovery that there had been a sizeable Jewish colony here in the 6th century BC with its own temple to Yahweh (Jehovah).
From a military order of king Darius II in 419 BC permitting his Yebu garrison to celebrate the Passover; it is clear that the Jews here served in defence of the Persian Empire's southernmost border. Te continuing excavations have revealed the existence of several temples, among them, to the west of the nilometer, a Temple of Khnum built during the XXX Dynasty and, to the north of the museum, a New Kingdom Temple of Satet, the female counterpart of Khnum.
At the southern tip of the island by the water's edge the fragment of a small Ptolemaic temple have been reassembled with the aid of much yellow break. Just to the west of the temple is a granite statue of an elephant with part of his head missing, recently excavated 250m northwest of the small Ptolemaic temple of Isis behind the Egyptair office.
The island was home to khnum, a ram-headed god of the cataracts who was said to have fashioned man on a potter's wheel. Rams sacred to the god were mummified, and the sarcophagus of one, with mummy, is in the museum.