Punt Expeditions

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Punt Expeditions


Sahure. The Egyptians traded with an area of Africa called Punt as early as Dynasty 5 (circa 2500-2350 b.c.e.) and maintained contact with it until the end of the New Kingdom (circa 1539-1075 b.c.e.). Punt was located on the east coast of Africa in present-day Ethiopia and Sudan. The earliest reference to trade expeditions to the region is found in the reign of Sahure (circa 2485-2472 b.c.e.). In this reign the Egyptian king received eighty thousand units of incense as well as electrum (a natural compound of gold and silver) and two other (untranslatable) commodities. An inscription from the reign of Djedkare Isesi (circa 2415-2371 b.c.e.) records the arrival at the royal court of a dancing dwarf imported from Punt. The same reign records that bedouins had destroyed Egyptian boats built for the Punt trade.

Imports. Contacts were maintained with Punt in the Middle Kingdom (circa 1980-1630 b.c.e.), though no details of an expedition are known. The best documentation for this trading partner comes from the New Kingdom. In the reign of Hatshepsut (circa 1478/1472-1458 b.c.e.) a trading expedition to Punt was recorded both in words and in relief. In addition to incense, the Egyptians imported ebony, herd animals, ivory, gold, and panther and cheetah skins. The reliefs depict Puntites living in beehive-shaped houses on stilts. The men wore long hair in the earlier depictions and short hair in depictions during the reign of Amenhotep III. The men also wore goatees and long kilts.


Harkhuf, an expedition leader to Nubia (southern Egypt and the Sudan) in Dynasty 6 (circa 2350-2170 b.c.e.), described his travels in his autobiography:

His Majesty Merenre, my lord, seat me together with my father, the Sole Companion, Yeri, to Yam [a part of Nubia] in order to explore the way to this foreign country, I did it in seven months. I brought every product from there. I was greatly praised for it,

His Majesty sent me a second time, alone. I went forth upon the Elephantine Road [road south from Aswan]. I returned through Yertjet, Makher, Tereres, (all in) Yertjetj, [names of places]—an affair of eight months. When I returned, I brought the products from this country in great quantity. Never before was anything like this brought to this land [to Egypt]. I returned from the house of trie ruler of Yertjet after I had explored these lands. Never before had any Companion [title of a person at the royal court held by Harkhuf] or Chief of Expedition Leaders [another title held by Harkhuf] who had gone forth to Yam done it earlier,

Translation by Edward Bleiberg

Source: Autobiography of Harkhuf, in Urkunden des agyptischen Altertums, Part I, Urkunden des alten Reichs edited by Kurt Sethe (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1903), pp. 124–125.


Barry J. Kemp, “Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period, c.2686-1552 BC,” in Ancient Egypt: A Social History, edited by Bruce Trigger and others (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 71–182.

Kenneth Kitchen, “The Land of Punt,” in The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals, and Towns, edited by Thurstan Shaw and others (London & New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 587–608.

William Stevenson Smith, “The Land of Punt” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 1 (1962): 59-60.