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Land of Punt

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Subject: Somalia, History of Ethiopia, History of Djibouti, Military history of Somalia, Ancient Egypt
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Land of Punt

The wife of the ruler of Punt from Hatshepsut's Deir el-Bahri monument.

The Land of Punt, also called Pwenet, or Pwene[1] by the ancient Egyptians, was an Egyptian trading partner known for producing and exporting gold, aromatic resins, blackwood, ebony, ivory, and wild animals. The region is known from ancient Egyptian records of trade missions to it.[2] Some biblical scholars have identified it with the biblical land of Put.[3]

At times Punt is referred to as Ta netjer, the "land of the god".[4]

The exact location of Punt is still debated by historians. Most scholars today believe Punt was located to the southeast of Egypt, most likely in the coastal region of what is today Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Northeast Ethiopia and the Red Sea coast of Sudan.[5] However, some scholars point instead to a range of ancient inscriptions which locate Punt in the Arabian Peninsula.[6] It is also possible that the territory covered both the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Egyptian expeditions to Punt

Egyptian soldiers from Hatshepsut's expedition to the Land of Punt as depicted from her temple at Deir el-Bahri.
This relief depicts incense and myrrh trees obtained by Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt
A tree in front of Hatshepsut's temple, claimed to have been brought from Punt by Hatshepsut's Expedition which is depicted on the Temple walls

The earliest recorded Egyptian expedition to Punt was organized by Pharaoh Sahure of the Fifth Dynasty (25th century BC) although gold from Punt is recorded as having been in Egypt in the time of king Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt.[7]

Subsequently, there were more expeditions to Punt in the Sixth, Eleventh, Twelfth and Eighteenth dynasties of Egypt. In the Twelfth dynasty, trade with Punt was celebrated in popular literature in the "Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor".

In the reign of [8] Trading missions of the 12th dynasty pharaohs Senusret I, Amenemhat II and Amenemhat IV had also successfully navigated their way to and from the mysterious land of Punt.[9][10]

In the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, Hatshepsut built a Red Sea fleet to facilitate trade between the head of the Gulf of Aqaba and points south as far as Punt to bring mortuary goods to Karnak in exchange for Nubian gold. Hatshepsut personally made the most famous ancient Egyptian expedition that sailed to Punt. During the reign of Queen Hatshepsut in the 15th century BC, ships regularly crossed the Red Sea in order to obtain bitumen, copper, carved amulets, naptha and other goods transported overland and down the Dead Sea to Elat at the head of the gulf of Aqaba where they were joined with frankincense and myrrh coming north both by sea and overland along trade routes through the mountains running north along the east coast of the Red Sea.[11]

A report of that five-ship voyage survives on reliefs in Hatshepsut's mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri.[12] Throughout the temple texts, Hatshepsut "maintains the fiction that her envoy" Chancellor Nehsi, who is mentioned as the head of the expedition, had travelled to Punt "in order to extract tribute from the natives" who admit their allegiance to the Egyptian pharaoh.[13] In reality, Nehsi's expedition was a simple trading mission to a land, Punt, which was by this time a well-established trading post.[13] Moreover, Nehsi's visit to Punt was not inordinately brave since he was "accompanied by at least five shiploads of [Egyptian] marines" and greeted warmly by the chief of Punt and his immediate family.[12][13] The Puntites "traded not only in their own produce of incense, ebony and short-horned cattle, but [also] in goods from other African states including gold, ivory and animal skins."[13] According to the temple reliefs, the Land of Punt was ruled at that time by King Parahu and Queen Ati.[14] This well illustrated expedition of Hatshepsut occurred in Year 9 of the female pharaoh's reign with the blessing of the god Amun:

Said by Amen, the Lord of the Thrones of the Two Land: 'Come, come in peace my daughter, the graceful, who art in my heart, King Maatkare [ie. Hatshepsut]...I will give thee Punt, the whole of it...I will lead your soldiers by land and by water, on mysterious shores, which join the harbours of incense...They will take incense as much as they like. They will load their ships to the satisfaction of their hearts with trees of green [ie. fresh] incense, and all the good things of the land.'[15]

While the Egyptians "were not particularly well versed in the hazards of sea travel, and the long voyage to Punt, must have seemed something akin to a journey to the moon for present-day explorers...the rewards of [obtaining frankincense, ebony and myrrh] clearly outweighted the risks."[9][16] Hatshepsut's 18th dynasty successors, such as Thutmose III and Amenhotep III also continued the Egyptian tradition of trading with Punt.[17] The trade with Punt continued into the start of the 20th dynasty before terminating prior to the end of Egypt's New Kingdom.[17] Papyrus Harris I, a contemporary Egyptian document which detailed events that occurred in the reign of the early 20th dynasty king Ramesses III, includes an explicit description of an Egyptian expedition's return from Punt:

They arrived safely at the desert-country of Coptos: they moored in peace, carrying the goods they had brought. They [the goods] were loaded, in travelling overland, upon asses and upon men, being reloaded into vessels at the harbour of Coptos. They [the goods and the Puntites] were sent forward downstream, arriving in festivity, bringing tribute into the royal presence.[18]

After the end of the New Kingdom period, Punt became "an unreal and fabulous land of myths and legends."[19]

Ta netjer

At times, the ancient Egyptians called Punt Ta netjer, meaning "God's Land".[20] This referred to the fact that it was among the regions of the Sun God, that is, the regions located in the direction of the sunrise, to the East of Egypt. These eastern regions' resources included products used in temples, notably incense. Older literature (and current non-mainstream literature) maintained that the label "God's Land", when interpreted as "Holy Land" or "Land of the gods/ancestors", meant that the ancient Egyptians viewed the Land of Punt as their ancestral homeland. W. M. Flinders Petrie believed that the Dynastic Race came from or through Punt [21] and E. A. Wallis Budge stated that “Egyptian tradition of the Dynastic Period held that the aboriginal home of the Egyptians was Punt...”.[22] The term was not only applied to Punt, located southeast of Egypt, but also to regions of Asia east and northeast of Egypt, such as Lebanon, which was the source of wood for temples.[23]


Supposed location around the Red Sea and major travel routes by land and sea

The majority opinion places Punt in Eastern Africa, based on the fact that the products of Punt (as depicted in the Hatshepsut illustrations) were abundantly found in the Horn of Africa but were less common or sometimes absent in Arabia. These products included gold and aromatic resins such as myrrh, and ebony; the wild animals depicted in Punt include giraffes, baboons, hippopotami, and leopards. Says Richard Pankhurst : “[Punt] has been identified with territory on both the Arabian and the Horn of Africa coasts. Consideration of the articles which the Egyptians obtained from Punt, notably gold and ivory, suggests, however, that these were primarily of African origin. ... This leads us to suppose that the term Punt probably applied more to African than Arabian territory.”[2][13][24][25]

Some scholars disagree with this view and point to a range of ancient inscriptions which locate Punt in Arabia. Dimitri Meeks has written that “Texts locating Punt beyond doubt to the south are in the minority, but they are the only ones cited in the current consensus about the location of the country. Punt, we are told by the Egyptians, is situated – in relation to the Nile Valley – both to the north, in contact with the countries of the Near East of the Mediterranean area, and also to the east or south-east, while its furthest borders are far away to the south. Only the Arabian Peninsula satisfies all these indications.”[6]

In 2010, a genetic study was conducted on the mummified remains of baboons that were brought back from Punt by the ancient Egyptians. Led by a research team from the Egyptian Museum and the University of California, the scientists used oxygen isotope analysis to examine hairs from two baboon mummies that had been preserved in the British Museum. One of the baboons had distorted isotopic data, so the other's oxygen isotope values were compared to those of modern-day baboon specimens from regions of interest. The researchers found that the mummies most closely matched modern specimens seen in Eritrea and Ethiopia as opposed to those in neighboring Somalia, with the Ethiopian specimens "basically due west from Eritrea". The team did not have the opportunity to compare the mummies with baboons in Yemen. The scientists believed that such an analysis would yield similar results since, according to them, regional isotopic maps suggest that baboons in Yemen would closely resemble those in Somalia. Professor Dominy, one of the lead researchers, concluded from this that "we think Punt is a sort of circumscribed region that includes eastern Ethiopia, Somalia and all of Eritrea."[26]

Egyptian spelling "pwenet"
it should be noted that the feminine "t" ending was not pronounced during the New Kingdom
the last sign is the determinative for country, land

Wall relief

Huts as in relief


  1. ^ Ian Shaw & Paul Nicholson, The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, London. 1995, p.231.
  2. ^ a b Shaw & Nicholson, p.231.
  3. ^ Sadler, Jr., Rodney (2009). "Put". In Katharine Sakenfeld. The  
  4. ^ Breasted, John Henry (1906–1907), Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical Documents from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest, collected, edited, and translated, with Commentary, p.433, vol.1
  5. ^ Simson Najovits, Egypt, trunk of the tree, Volume 2, (Algora Publishing: 2004), p.258.
  6. ^ a b Dimitri Meeks – Chapter 4 – “Locating Punt” from the book “Mysterious Lands”, by David B. O'Connor and Stephen Quirke.
  7. ^ Breasted 1906–07, p. 161, vol. 1.
  8. ^ Breasted 1906–07, pp. 427–433, vol. 1.
  9. ^ a b Joyce Tyldesley, Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh, Penguin Books, 1996 hardback, p.145
  10. ^ El-Sayed Mahfouz: Amenemhat IV at Wadi Gawasis, Bulletin de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale A. (BIFAO) 2010, vol. 110, [165-173, 485, 491 [11 p.]], ISBN 978-2-7247-0583-6, see also [1]
  11. ^ Dr. Muhammed Abdul Nayeem, (1990). Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula. Hyderabad. ISBN.
  12. ^ a b Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, p.149
  13. ^ a b c d e Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, p.147
  14. ^ Breasted 1906–07, pp. 246–295, vol. 1.
  15. ^ E. Naville, The Life and Monuments of the Queen in T.M. Davis (ed.), the tomb of Hatshopsitu, London: 1906. pp.28–29
  16. ^ Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, p.148
  17. ^ a b Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, pp.145–146
  18. ^ K.A. Kitchen, Punt and how to get there, Orientalia 40 (1971), 184–207:190.
  19. ^ Tyldesley, Hatchepsut, p.146
  20. ^ Breasted 1906–07, p. 658, vol. II.
  21. ^ "The Making of Egypt" (1939) states that the Land of Punt was "sacred to the Egyptians as the source of their race."
  22. ^ Short History of the Egyptian People, by E. A. Wallis Budge. Budge stated that “Egyptian tradition of the Dynastic Period held that the aboriginal home of the Egyptians was Punt...”
  23. ^ Breasted 1906–07, p. 451,773,820,888, vol. II.
  24. ^ Pankhurst, Richard (2001). "The Ethiopians: A history".  
  25. ^ Hatshepsut's Temple at Deir El Bahari By Frederick Monderson
  26. ^ Owen Jarus ,"Baboon mummy analysis reveals Eritrea and Ethiopia as location of land of Punt". The Independent. 26 April 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 


Older literature

  • Johannes Dumichen: Die Flotte einer ägyptischen Königin, Leipzig, 1868.
  • Wilhelm Max Müller: Asien und Europa nach altägyptischen Denkmälern, Leipzig, 1893.
  • Adolf Erman: Life in Ancient Egypt, London, 1894.
  • Édouard Naville: "Deir-el-Bahri" in Egypt Exploration Fund, Memoirs XII, XIII, XIV, and XIX, London, 1894 et seq.
  • James Henry Breasted: A History of the Ancient Egyptians, New York, 1908.

External links

  • The Land of Punt with quotes from Breasted (1906) and Petrie (1939)
  • Queen Hatasu, and Her Expedition to the Land of Punt by Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (1891)
  • Deir el-Bahri: Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
  • Hall of Punt at Deir el-Bahri; and Where was Punt? discussion by Dr. Karl H. Leser
  • Queen of Punt syndrome

News reports on Wadi Gawasis excavations

  • Archaeologists discover ancient ships in Egypt (Boston University Bridge, 18 March 2005). Excavations at Wadi Gawasis, possibly the ancient Egyptian port Saaw.
  • Remains of ancient Egyptian seafaring ships discovered (New Scientist, 23 March 2005).
  • Sailing to distant lands (Al Ahram, 2 June 2005).
  • Ancient ship remains are unearthed (Deutsche Press Agentur, 26 January 2006).
  • 4,000-year-old shipyard unearthed in Egypt (MSNBC, 6 March 2006).
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