Punt: Roads and Routes
Punt: Roads and Routes
An Unknown Destination . Of all the places to which the Egyptians traveled, probably the one that was for them most evocative of remote and distant locales was Punt. This area has never been located with absolute certainty but was probably a coastal region of southern Sudan or, perhaps, Somalia, and may also have included areas of southern Arabia, just across the Red Sea from Somalia itself.
Early Contacts . Punt was known as early as the Old Kingdom (circa 2675-2130 b.c.e.). The earliest reference is from the reign of Sahure, who sent an expedition there for myrrh and electrum (a mixture of silver and gold). Two pharaohs, Djedkare Isesi of Dynasty 5 (circa 2500-2350 b.c.e.) and Neferkare Pepy II of Dynasty 6 (circa 2350-2170 b.c.e.), reportedly received pygmies from Punt, although in all likelihood they had been captured further south and brought to Punt by middlemen.
During the Middle Kingdom . In the Middle Kingdom, inscriptions such as that of the Egyptian official Henenu (circa 2008-1957 b.c.e.) from the Wadi Hammamat attest to expeditions to Punt. These inscriptions show that for the Egyptians the route to Punt included an overland trek from Coptos (modern Qift) to the vicinity of a Red Sea coastal village called Mersa Gawasis, where ships were assembled and the sea voyage began. Few contacts are certain after early Dynasty 12 (circa 1938-1759 b.c.e.), but Punt nevertheless remained a legendary destination for foreign travel and adventure: an Egyptian prose work called the “Tale of
the Shipwrecked Sailor” recounts the experiences of a sailor who is marooned on a distant island during a voyage to Punt.
Renewed Contact . Under the Dynasty 18 woman pharaoh Hatshepsut a major expedition to Punt was launched, commemorated with splendid, detailed relief sculptures at her funerary temple at Deir el Bahri. Here one sees the ships that were dispatched, illustrations of the products of Punt, as well as some of the Puntites themselves, including the famous “Queen of Punt,” a diminutive and wrinkled woman with an immense backside. Among the various products brought back from Punt were myrrh, electrum, gold, tropical woods, incense, baboons and monkeys, minerals for eye makeup, dogs, and panther, or leopard, skins. Several later New Kingdom pharaohs, including Ramesses III, mention other expeditions to Punt. It seems possible that the location of Punt was still known in Dynasty 26 (664-525 b.c.e.). But by the Greco-Roman Period, the name “Punt” was no longer connected with any specific place and was not, so it seems, known to real traders and merchants who traveled to the coast of eastern Africa.
K. Kitchen, “The Land of Punt,” in Thurston Shaw and others, The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals, and Towns (London & New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 587–606.
Kitchen, “Punt and How to Get There,” Orientalia, 40 (1971): 184-207.
Alessandra Nibbi, Ancient Egypt and Some Eastern Neighbors (Park Ridge, N.J.: Noyes Press, 1981).