a site on the eastern bank of the Nile River, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) upstream from the Third Cataract, occupying a prominent mound that formed over 36 hectares. Excavations were undertaken at Kawa by the Oxford Excavations in Nubia expedition led by Francis Llewellyn Griffith from 1929 to 1931 and, after his death, by M. F. Laming Macadam and Laurence Kirwan in the winter of 1935–1936. Although excavated on a large scale, much of the site remains to be investigated, and at no point were the earliest deposits reached. The oldest artifacts were of the Kerma period, but no structural evidence of that date was revealed. Epigraphic evidence indicates that in Old Egyptian, the town was called Gem Aten (“the Aten is perceived”); this strongly suggests that a settlement was founded (or refounded) there during the New Kingdom, either in the latter part of the reign of Amenhotpe III or in that of his son, Amenhotpe IV, better known as Akhenaten.

Griffith's team excavated the well-preserved remains of a stone temple (Temple A) built by, or possibly completed by, Tutankhamun. Temple A remained in use for centuries, and there are inscriptions within it of a number of nineteenth and twentieth dynasty pharaohs, including Ramesses II. The latest attested pharaoh is Ramesses VI (r. 1156–1149 BCE).

On the collapse of Egyptian control of the region, which ended by the early eleventh century BCE, the fate of the town is unknown. It was next mentioned in the extant sources from the time of the Kushite ruler Alara (early eighth century BCE), when there was probably a functioning temple of Amun there. In 690 BCE, the Kushite ruler Taharka, passed through Kawa on his way to Egypt and was appalled at the state of a temple in the town. He ordered the reconstruction of that building and, in 684 BCE, began the construction of a large temple of Amun (Temple T), which was completed in four years by a team of architects and masons brought from Memphis especially for the task. Kawa was a nome capital, and it held a prominent place in the ritualized demonstration of royal power by the Kushite kings. A number of inscriptions, including that of Irike-Amanote (r. 431–405 BCE), carved on the walls of Temple T, record that the town was one of several sites visited by the new Kushite monarchs. At each visit, the king's divine mandate to rule was confirmed by the local god; at Kawa, it was Amun of Gem Aten, depicted as a ram-headed god, with the horizontally twisted horns of the sheep species Ovis longipes palaeoaegyptiaca.

The town was inhabited into the early first millennium CE, and from that time additional temples, dwellings, a temple garden, and a wine press are known from excavations. Surface finds from the rest of the site indicate that substantial mud-brick buildings lie buried there. By the fourth century CE, the site was abandoned, having perhaps finally succumbed to the ever encroaching wind-blown sands, which had constantly threatened to over-whelm it. It has never been reoccupied.

See also NUBIA.


  • Macadam, M. F. Laming. The Temples of Kawa, vol. 1: The Inscriptions. London, 1949.
  • Macadam, M. F. Laming. The Temples of Kawa, vol. 2: History and Archaeology of the Site. London, 1955. This work, with Kawa I, publish in detail the excavations of the 1920s and 1930s; the prime sources for any discussion of the site.
  • Welsby, Derek A. The Kingdom of Kush: The Napatan and Meroitic Empires. London, 1996. Discussed here and placed in their wider context are Kawa, as a major center of the Kushite state, and the Kushite Temple T.

Derek A. Welsby