Land of Punt

The Land of Punt, also called "Pwenet by the ancient Egyptians, at times synonymous with Ta netjer, the 'land of the god', was a fabled site in the Horn of Africa and "was the source of many exotic products, such as gold, aromatic resins, African blackwood, ebony, ivory, slaves and wild animals". Information about Punt has been found in ancient Egyptian records of trade missions to this region.

Egyptian expeditions

The earliest recorded Egyptian expedition to Punt was organized by Pharaoh Sahure of the Fifth Dynasty (25th century BC). Subsequently, in the reign of Mentuhotep III (around 1950 BC), an officer named Hannu organized one or more voyages to Punt, but it is uncertain whether he travelled on these expeditions.

The most famous ancient Egyptian expedition to Punt was conducted during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut in the 15th century BC to obtain myrrh. A report of that voyage survives on a relief in Hatshepsut's funerary temple at Deir el-Bahri. Nehsi, mentioned in the inscriptions, is thought by some to have been the leader of the expedition. According to the relief, Punt was ruled at that time by King Parahu and Queen Ati. Several of Hatshepsut's successors, including Thutmose III, also organized expeditions to Punt.

Geographic location

Ancient Egyptian texts are consistent in connecting the location of Punt with the Red Sea, but scholars have not agreed upon its precise location. Modern academic consensus places Punt in the area of Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, or the southeastern Beja lands of Sudan.

The most likely location of Punt, according to Kenneth Kitchen, is Eritrea, northern Ethiopia and east-north-east Sudan. The presence of teff in 4th dynasty pyramid bricks of the Dahshur Pyramid supports this theory, as teff only grows in the Eritrean Highlands and Ethiopian Highlands. Modern attempts to classify the flora and fauna from Punt also suggests that Punt may have been located in this region. Myrrh trees from Hatshepsut's trading expedition to Punt are shown being loaded onto Egyptian ships in the second terrace of her funerary temple at Deir el-Bahri. Evidence that these trees were "replanted in the temple of Deir El-Bahri" is suggested "from the surviving traces of tree-pits" found here.

Some argue that Punt was as far away as Puntland, a region of Somalia that adopted this name in the 20th century. Frankincense and myrrh, which were imported by the Egyptians from Punt, are still found in abundance in this region. In his translation of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, G.W.B. Huntingford claimed that the name Punt lay behind the name of Opone, a coastal marketplace in Somalia located south of Cape Guardafui, and identified both Punt and Opone with Hafun, a Somalian peninsula.

It was once thought that the frankincense and other goods the ancient Egyptians obtained in Punt suggested that it was located on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, or even Bahrain or India. The presence of African animals in the Deir el-Bahri reliefs, as well as the presence of incense-producing trees in Africa, have discounted these theories.

"Ta netjer"

The ancient Egyptians also called Punt Ta netjer, meaning "God's Land". This designation did not mean that Punt was considered a "Holy Land" by the Egyptians; rather, it was used to refer to regions of the Sun God, i.e. regions located in the direction of the sunrise. These eastern regions were blessed with precious products, like incense, used in temples. The term was used not only in reference to Punt, located southeast of Egypt, but also in reference to regions of Asia east and northeast of Egypt, such as Lebanon, which was the source of wood for temples.



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