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The Land of Punt is Eritrea (Part I)

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, various scholars’ opinions were included 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 land of 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 the word “ebony.” Visitors to punt had encountered panthers, 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 fall on the mountain of Punt only in the miraculous form of veritable deluges. These details gleaned from texts enable us to locate the famous shores of punt and their vast inter land. The land called punt included a desert region and a Sahelian region between the 22nd and the 18th longitude lines parallel to the North. 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 indefinable border separated it from Kush and the land of the Medjoi (roughly Etbaya).

Egyptians explorers could get to the land of 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, costly journey. Even so, the land was both divine and familiar. This casts new light on a longstanding Egyptological problem, the location of the land of Punt, from which came gold, ebony, incence, and 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 in Eritrea, along with one kind of incense widely used in Bronze Age Egypt and the Levant, Eritrean Pistacia resin (serpico and White 2000).

In nearly four decades of writing on the subject of Punt, he has succeeded in establishing what has today become the most widely accepted position on the location of Punt (Eritrea and Eastern Sudan). Perhaps the most contrary evidence is language, and according kitchen, “As for Parehu, the only named chief of Punt, the consonant p in his name and that of Punt itself also firmly excludes Arabia.” And the mere reason is that 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, which make the transcription is reliable.

Professor Pankhurst explains why the Eritrean coast would have been the best location for Punt, and pointed out that the proximity of the area to Egypt and the limitation of seasonal sailing wind as the main reasons. 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 and the Ethiopian borderlands.

Time, should be emphasized, and was 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.

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.”

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….”

One of the most significant information 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 archeological discovery that shows Kush, along with Punt and other neighboring kingdoms joined in force to invade and successfully defeat the Ancient Egyptians and the tomb belonged to Sobeknakht, a Governor of El Kab, 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 says that vast territories were affected and describes Sobeknakht’s heroic role in organizing 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 findings went mostly unnoticed in the archaeological 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.

The Earliest History of Punt Land

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 cradle of Egyptian civilization. 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.

During the Fourth Egyptian dynasty (2789-2767 BC),a Punt slave is mentioned as the helping hand to the son of Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid. Pankhurst further adds that the pharaoh Sahure of the Fifth Dynasty dispatched the earliest naval expedition to Punt, where supplies from Punt probably first reached Egypt overland. King Sahure (2958-2946 BC) of the Fifth Dynasty, however, later dispatched a naval fleet, which returned with myrrh, gold and costly wood. King Pepy II (2738-2644 BC) of the Sixth Dynasty subsequently had noted that he had a Tenq, a slave, from Punt. 

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 Punt waters.
Before the Suez Canal was built, the ancient Egyptians had already built a waterway from the Nile to the Red Sea. Ancient Egyptian contact with Punt was subsequently facilitated by the orders from King Sesostris III (2099-2061 BC), almost four thousand years before the Suez Canal.

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