The Land of Punt is Eritrea
To the ancient Egyptians, the land of Punt was the most exotic and mysterious of places to visit. It seems to have been considered by them a most unique haven; an emporium of goods for both king and gods.
For scholars however, Punt has been a challenging place to pinpoint. Using quotes from the leading scholars and experts on Punt, this paper will demonstrate a strong case that Punt was undoubtedly an African kingdom located in modern day Eritrea and eastern-Sudan.
The Location of Punt
In this section, I've provided various scholars' opinions on where the ancient Kingdom of Punt would have been located at, based on the information that's provided by the ancient Egyptians.
Egyptologists have long since given up on locating Punt in Arabia Felix (Yemen), or equating it with the biblical land of Ophir and its "mines of King Solomon." In fact, there was also a land route that brought the products of Punt to Egypt; the "mountain of Punt" and its auriferous pools clearly lay on the borders of Kush, in the Nile Valley of Nubia. Scholars no longer feel a need to go as far as Zanzibar or Socortra or even to Somalia in search of Punt. The book of the pharaohs By Pascal Vernus, Jean Yoyotte, David Lorton, p. 150
Punt was home to various incense-bearing trees (Boswellia and commiphera, which thrive on low rainfall), dom-palms, and species of hard, black trees called heben in Egyptian, the origin of our own word "ebony." Visitors to punt enountered panthers and cheetahs, monkeys and baboons (the latter on dry hills), as well as giraffes and rhinoceroses, animals that dwelled in the plains. Gold also came from Punt, In the middle of summer, rain fell on the mountain of Punt only in the miraculous form of vertable deluges. These details gleaned from texts enable us to locate the famous shores of punt and their vast interland. The land called punt included a desert region and a Sahelian region between the 22nd and the 18th parallel N. The south of Punt might have included the present-day province of Kassala and the north of Eritrea. To the west and the northwest, an undefinable border separated it from Kush and the land of the Medjoi (roughly Etbaya). The book of the pharaohs By Pascal Vernus, Jean Yoyotte, David Lorton, p. 150-1
Egyptians explorers could get to Punt by land, though they had to cross vast stretches of mountains and desert. Punt could also be reached by sea, but at the cost of huge logistical efforts and a lengthy, coast-hugging journey. Even so, the land was both divine and familiar. Min of Koptos, the partron god of the trails in the eastern desert, was the prototype of the Medjoi from Punt and of the wanderers who explored that land. The Sky goddess Hathor, patroness of major voyages to foreign lands, was "misstress of punt." The book of the pharaohs By Pascal Vernus, Jean Yoyotte, David Lorton, p. 151
This casts new light on a longstanding Egyptological problem, the location of the land of Punt (pwnt), from which came gold, ebony, incence, and a host of other marvels. Rejecting its earlier identification with Somalia, Kitchen (1993) firmly locates Punt in northern Eritrea and adjacent areas of Sudan. The ebony (dalbergia melanoxylon) found in Pharaonic contexts occurs only here (in Eritrea), along with one kind of incense widely used in Bronze Age Egypt and the Levant, Eritrean Pistacia resin (serpico and White 2000). African connections: an archaeological perspective on Africa and the wider world By Peter Mitchell, p. 78
Kitchen, in nearly four decades of writing on the subject of Punt, has succeeded in establishing what today is the most widely accepted position on the location of Punt (Eritrea and Eastern Sudan). To Kitchen, Arabia was certainly out of the question. Perhaps the most contrary evidence is linguistic, he writes: "As for Parehu, the only named chief of Punt, the consonant p in his name and that of Punt itself also firmly excludes Arabia." Why? Because Old South Arabian languages possess an f but no p. Thus, Kitchen writes, "Arabia would have had a Farehu, chief of Funt!" Egyptian has both consonants, so the transcription is reliable, he adds.
Trade and travel in the Red Sea Region, By, Paul Lunde, Alexandra Porter, p.178.
In the following two paragraphs, professor Pankhurst explains why the Eritrean coast would have been the best location for Punt do to proximity to Egypt and due to the limitation of seasonal sailing winds.
It may further be urged that the northernmost area, what is now the Eritrean coast, probably constituted the most frequently visited African section of Punt. The area's northerly location, and consequent relative proximity to Egypt, would have given its trade a significant edge over that of more distant areas, such as the Somali country. The Ethiopian borderlands, By Richard Pankhurst, p.4
Time, it should be emphasised, was of the essence. The Trade Winds dictated that ships from Egypt, sailing at perhaps 30 miles a day, had to travel during the three or so summer months, June to August, when the wind blew southwards, and had to complete their trading enterprise, doubtless no rapid affair, by November, when the winter winds began to blow in the opposite direction. Southbound vessels probably needed about a month to reach the northern Eritrean area, about the same time again to arrive at the coast opposite Aden, and a further month to reach Cape Guardafui (in Somalia). The southerly winds would by then be abating. It would therefore appear doubtful whether Egyptian commercial navigators could have easily sailed much further in the time permitted to them by nature. The Ethiopian borderlands, By Richard Pankhurst, p.4
For the ancient Egyptians, Punt came to represent the point of the southernmost extent of Egyptian penetration of Africa, as reported on an obelisk from the reign of Queen Hatshepsut:
"my southern boundary is as far as the lands of Punt." Daily life of the Nubians, by Robert Bianchi, page 126
Ancient Egyptian inscriptions seem to suggest a geographic linkage between Punt and Kush, as the following inscription taking from Solem from the time of Amenhotep III demonstrates:
"When I turn my face to the south....I cause the chiefs of wretched Kush to turn thee...when I turn my face to thee the countries of Punt bring all the pleasant sweet woods of their countries...." Daily life of the Nubians, by Robert Bianchi, page 126
One of the most significant information of late that makes a very strong case that Punt was a kingdom neighboring upon Kush Kingdom (and one that disproves it being in Yemen or as distant as Somalia or Tanzania) is with the recent 2003 arechological discovery that shows Kush, along with Punt and other neighboring kingdoms joined in force to invade and sucessufully defeat the Ancient Egyptians.
"The tomb belonged to Sobeknakht, a Governor of El Kab, an important provincial capital during the latter part of the 17th Dynasty (about 1575-1550BC).
The inscription describes a ferocious invasion of Egypt by armies from Kush and its allies from the south, including the land of Punt, on the southern coast of the Red Sea. It says that vast territories were affected and describes Sobeknakht’s heroic role in organising a counter-attack.
The text takes the form of an address to the living by Sobeknakht: “Listen you, who are alive upon earth . . . Kush came . . . aroused along his length, he having stirred up the tribes of Wawat . . . the land of Punt and the Medjaw. . .” It describes the decisive role played by “the might of the great one, Nekhbet”, the vulture-goddess of El Kab, as “strong of heart against the Nubians, who were burnt through fire”, while the “chief of the nomads fell through the blast of her flame”. Tomb reveals Ancient Egypt’s humiliating secret
Professor Fattovich even argues that the ancient Ona Group-A sites of Eritrea (located near Asmara, the capital) may possibly be part of Punt or linked to it.
The potential importance of these finds went mostly unnoticed in the archaelogical world until Rodolfo Fattovich drew attention to their significance for understanding early complex societies in the Horn. Calling these sites both the "Ona Culture" and "Ona Group-A," he argues for a possible connection between Egypt and the land of Punt, and identifies the Ona culture as either located within the land of punt or as possibly linked to Punt (Fattovich 1984, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997a) The archaeology of ancient Eritrea By Peter Ridgway Schmidt, Matthew C. Curtis, Zelalem Teka, p. 469.
The Earliest mention of Punt and it's history.
According to Pankhurst, Punt dates back to the cradle of Egyptian civilization.
The first known contacts between Egypt and Punt date back to almost to the cradile of Egyptian civilisation. Pharaonic records reveal that as early as the First or Second Dynasties (3407-2888 BC) the Egyptians were in possession of myrrh The Ethiopian borderlands, by Richard Pankhurst, p. 4
"during the Fourth Egyptian dynasty (2789-2767 BC) a Puntite slave is mentioned as having been in the service of a son of Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid." The Ethiopian borderlands, by Richard Pankhurst, p. 5
Pankhurst further adds that the pharaoh Sahure of the Fifth Dynasty dispatched the earliest naval expedition to Punt.
"Supplies from Punt probably first reached Egypt overland. King Sahure (2958-2946 BC) of the Fifth Dynasty, however, later despatched a naval fleet, which returned with myrrh, gold and costly wood. King Pepy II (2738-2644 BC) of the Sixth Dynasty subsequently noted that he had a Tenq, or small-boned slave, from Punt." The Ethiopians: a history By Richard Pankhurst, p. 14
"Pharaonic expeditions to Punt increased after the founding of the Egyptian Red Sea port of Wadi Gasus, north of Koseir, during the reign of King Mentuhotep IV (2242-2212 BC) of the Eleventh Dynasty. Egyptian familiarity with Punt also found expression, during the Twelfth Dynasty, in a popular tale of a mariner, a kind of early Sinbad the Sailor, ship-wrecked in Puntite waters." The Ethiopians: a history By Richard Pankhurst, p. 14
Before the Suez Canal was built, the ancient Egyptians had already built a waterway from the Nile to the Red Sea.
"Contact with Punt was subsequently facilitated by the cutting, on orders from King Sesostris III (2099-2061 BC), almost four thousand years before the Suez Canal, of a waterway between the Nile and the Red Sea." The Ethiopians: a history By Richard Pankhurst, p.15
"The New Egyptian Kingdom, founded around 1600 BC, witnessed many direct sailings from Egypt to Punt. By far the best known expedition to the latter region was despatched by Queen Hatshepsut (1501-1470 BC), whose achievements are recorded in inscriptions and pictorial reliefs on the walls of her famous temple of Dair El-Bahri at Thebes in southern Egypt. "As beautiful in execution as they are important in content" they constitute veritable archives in stone, and provide by far the most detailed source for the study of Puntite foreign trade ever produced. This expedition was, however, far from unique. The modern Swedish historian Saveo Soderberg observes that 'many, or ever perhaps most' of the Pharaohs despatched fleets to Punt, though almost every ruler tried to claim that was the first to do so." The Ethiopians: a history By Richard Pankhurst, p. 15
Queen Hatshepsut, after completing her expedition to Punt stated:
"I have given to thee all lands and all countries, wherein thy heart is glad. I have given to thee all Punt as far as the lands of God's Land .... I have led thy army on water and on land to explore the waters of inaccessible channels, and I have reached the myrrh-terraces (Punt). It is a glorious region of God's land; it is indeed my place of delight." The Book of the Ancient World, by Dorothy Mills, p.48-49
With the arrival of Queen Hatshepsut troops, the chief and his wife, quoted on Hatshepsut's mortuary temple, stated:
"How have you arrived at this land unknown to the men of Egypt? Have you come down from the roads of the Heavens? Or have you navigated the sea of Ta-nuter? You must have followed the path of the sun. As for the King of Egypt, there is no road which is inaccessible to His Majesty; we live by the breath he grants to us." Egypt and its monuments: By Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards, p. 285
"Perhaps the most interesting feature of the relief, however, is the representation of two small Puntite sailing vessels. Their presence, as the archaeologist N. de Garis Davies has argued, reveals for the first time that the people of Punt were themselves making long sea journeys. Discussing these voyages he comments that the commerce revealed in Hatshepsut's inscriptions seems to have been continued, in part at least, by Puntite vessels which brought their freight to an Egyptian port, probably near Koseir, where the Egyptians met them and bartered their manufactures for such produce as the Puntites had been able to transport.
Te Precise character of the Puntite vessels cannot unfortunately be established from the relief. Their hulls, Davies remarks, are depicted as "bolster-like shapes, rounded at both ends", and, like the background, coloured pink. Their shape, colour and absence of the marking seem to preclude their constituting a heavy wooden structure, such as would be needed, not only to weather the storms and defy coral reefs, but also to hold the high mast and steering gear presumably required by such a vessel. The Boat's personnel was small, and comprised a captain, a steersman, a crew of one, perhaps also a stevedore, and a cook with a small pot, as well as apparently a woman and a child as passengers." The Ethiopian borderlands. By Richard Pankhurst, p. 14
"Though the Egyptian inscriptions are almost exclusively concerned with Pharaonic activities there are indications that the Puntites, within half a century of Hapshetsut's great expedition, were themselves understaking commercial voyages to Egypt. Testimony of this is found in an Egyptian official's tomb at Thebes, dating from the reign of King Amenhotep II (1447-1420 BC). It contains a relief depicting the arrival of two chiefs of Punt, bringing articles from their country, including gold, incense, ebony, trees, ostrich feathers and eggs, skins, antelopes(?) and oxen. There are also pictures of two Puntite vessels,which, though much smaller than those of the Pharaohs, were evidently seaworthy. Another tomb of the period depicts the arrival of other goods from Punt, among them fragrant gum, skins, and two wild animals, the happier in that they brought their skins on their backs." The Ethiopians: a history By Richard Pankhurst, p.15
"One of the last recorded Pharaonic expeditions to punt was despatched by Ramses III (1998-1167 BC) of the Twentieth Dynasty. An inscription of his reign describes Egyptian vessels returning with Puntite products, among them many 'strange articles', 'plentiful myrrh', and a number of Puntites who brought it." The Ethiopians: a history By Richard Pankhurst, p. 15
The Appearance of Puntites
Puntites like all people of ancient kingdoms had a wide ranging looks and appearances. The painting below on the right demonstrates this. We can clearly see what appears to be a Puntite woman walking out of her home, who's dressed in a long red dress. The picture next to hers also shows a very dark skinned man walking what appears to be a dog. Rare images of Puntites like this makes a strong case that the Puntites were undoubtedly African, as the following quotes will illustrate.
"Numerous representations of Nubians, Puntites and Libyans occur in Egyptian art, but only in the Nubian case can they be cross-checked against an indigenous archaeology. Such representations become standardized and stereotypical, and it is never certain when they represent contemporary reality. However, significant changes in representation are introduced over time and, at least initially, they might be thought to have been based on direct and from Egyptians-in skin colour, treatment of the hair (and sometimes beard), and reddish skins, but costume and ornamentation. Puntite and Egyptian males are assigned similarly reddish skins, but Nubians typically have darker ones, and Libyans at most periods have light coloured, yellowish skin. Initially, Nubians and Puntites may have been shown as fairly similar in appearance and dress (short linen kilts), but by ca. 1400 BC they are distinctly different." Ancient Egypt in Africa - Page 13
"By 2000 BC Nubians wore loin cloths of leather, sometimes decorated with beadwork patterns attested in contemporary Nubian graves as well. Subsequently, in the New Kingdom (1593-1075 BC) many continued to be similarly dressed, but others wore linen kilts or even fully representative Egyptian dres; in both cases, skin colours and hair treatment remain distintively Nubian. The distinction, as can be seen in Figure 1:2, may be between the by now heavily Egyptianized Nubians of northern and central Nubia, and opponents, prisoners of war and 'tribte bearers' from still independent soutern Nubia. During the same periods, Puntites display hairstles different from the Nubian: most were long hair, with a head band and fillet; other Puntite hair is cap-like and perhaps a mark of elite status. Short linen kilts appear typical, and some possibly elite, wore shirts as well." Ancient Egypt in Africa - Page 13
The kilt-like dressing style of the people of Punt is also seen in some of Eritrea's modern ethnic group's traditional wear as shown in the photo below.
Land of Punt housing
"The unusual form of housing employed in the land of Punt was clearly the source of much interest to the ancient Egyptian artists who decorated the souther wall of the second portico of the mortuary temple of QueenHatshepsut: no less than seven individual dwellings, of essentially the same type, are shown. These houses, so far as we can tell, seem to have been rounded huts covered with an undulating pointed thatched roof and (their most interesting feature) raised on stilts or piles above ground level, so that they could be entered only by climbing the ladders depicted learning against them, although no figures are seen in that activity. The logical, and indeed general, explanation is that the inhabitants lived on the 'upper floor' above ground level, the piles protecting them from marauding wild animals or other natural phenomena." 1996, Egypt Exploration Society, by Jacke Phillips, p. 206
Ancient Egyptian artifacts in Eritrea
According to professor Kjetil Tronvoll,
"..most of present day Eritrea was comprised of the ancient Kingdom of Punt, whose rulers dominated the area for a thousand years until about 1,000 B.C. (see, for instance, Longrigg 1945:11). In this respect, this particular area has one of Sub-Saharan Africa's oldest traditions of state-formations."— professor Kjetil Tronvoll Mai Weini, a highland village in Eritrea, By Kjetil Tronvoll, 1996
But was there any evidence of ancient Egyptian artifacts located in Eritrea? Despite the fact that Eritrea has yet to be properly excavated, there are indeed many locations demonstrating ancient Egyptian artifacts, proving the Eritrean region was indeed in contact with them.
"At agordat in the middle Barka valley (Eritrea), an Egyptian-style, ceramic ear-plug and some stone celts which imitate bronze prototypes of the 17th-18th Dynasties have been excavated in sites dating to the mid-second millennium BC. On the Eritrean coast at Adulis, two fragments of glass vessels typical of the New Kingdom have been found in a level dating to the late second millennium BC." Encyclopedia of the archaeology of ancient Egypt By Kathryn A. Bard, Steven Blake Shubert, p.637
Video below is of the Land of Punt
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