The Land of Punt: Shedding More Light on Its Location- Part I
Sun 29-12-2013 21:14:20

December 28, 2013


As the racial origin of ancient Egyptians had long been debated and searched from the Southern Pacific to southern Europe prior mid 1800’s, similarly the location of the ancient land of Punt, with which the Egyptians loved to deal and even identified themselves with, had also been a subject of debate among the scholars during that period. Champollion’s decipherment of hieroglyphs in the 1820s, which led solving the riddle on Egyptian origin, had also introduced the knowledge about the existence of historical Land of Punt and resultant investigation in the supposed places.

Although Champollion himself suggested that, on the basis of physical anthropology, Punt should have existed in the Horn of Africa, nevertheless the research on the location of Punt took nearly half a century looking for it from Syria and Yemen to Zimbabwe.

Eventually, from around the turn of the century onwards, many leading Egyptologists and other historians have recognized Punt in Northern Somalia through literary, anthropological, archaeological, ecological, and geographical accounts.[1]
But as it is usual that one may speculate about the location of that kind of important, but mysterious land, the precise location of Punt or its regional borders have occasionally been debated by some scholars, usually on inadequate ground. However, two arguments that have been made during the last two decades are quite different and it is necessary to deal with them here. Although the primary source of the first one is not available for this article, we will utilize an abstraction of it by a secondary source.

In the first argument, it is assumed that Punt was somewhere in Eastern Sudan, an area about 200 KM north of Khartoum. To make contacts with Puntites, it is added, the Egyptian travelers might have sailed along the Nile river, not by Red Sea, and then, at a point from the river, took an overland route to Punt.

The myrrh trees that were loaded onto Hatshepsut’s ships might show that they have been intended to replant in her temple at Deir-el-Bahri, “so that the Egyptians could produce their own aromatics from them … given the fact that such plants might well have died during the more difficult voyage northwards along the Red Sea coast”,[2] it is argued.

Traditionally, it has been believed that the Egyptians were travelling by Red Sea from the ancient ports Marsa Gawassis or Quseir. Contrary to the argument, new findings have affirmed the validity of that assumption. A well preserved remains of large ships and harbor installations such as “ship’s timbers, anchors, coils of ancient rope, and the rigging of seagoing ships that date from the reigns of several Pharaonic dynasties” are excavated from the port Marsa Gawassis.[3]

Additionally, a major expedition was sent from that port, which is close to the western end of Red Sea, by Pharaoh [Amenemhat IV] about 3,800 years ago.[4] Kathryn Bard, a Boston University distinguished Egyptologist, led the excavations and has subsequently announced:  “We have made a wonderful find there. It was really amazing – 40 cargo boxes from the ship, and some were inscribed with the name of that very king, the name of the scribe, and the inscribed words, ‘wonderful things from Punt’.”[5]

Among many other evidences, the findings from this port in general and the relics of the expedition in particular, eliminate the possibility of a route along the Nile to Punt. One cannot see any reason to entertain that assumption anymore.
The second argument is based on a case study of two mummified baboons that were taken from Punt to Egypt which are now held by British museum in London. The study has been conducted by two other scientists: Nathaniel Dominy, an ecologist, and Gillian Moritz, a specialist in a mass spectrometer in the Dominy’s laboratory. The ecologist has sheared a few hairs from the baboons for the lab specialist to work on, for a purpose of using “baboons as a lens to solve the Punt problem”. Describing it as “a complicated bit of chemistry”, David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor, who has appreciated the study explains:

“Despite their age, those hairs still contained trace molecules of the water the animals drank when alive … every oxygen atom is made up of three different stable isotopes-their atomic masses- and the ratio between two of them, oxygen-18, varies significantly in the rainfall and humidity from one part of the world to another, even from different parts of a continent.”

He continues: “Moritz used… ratios in the hairs of each mummified baboon, and compared them with the ratios in all.

Part Two forthcoming

Said M-Shidad Hussein

Qoraaga: Said M-Shidad Hussein