Punt, People of


Punt, People of
    The Land of Punt was situated somewhere to the south-east of Egypt, probably on the east coast of Africa near the south end of the Red Sea. The Egyptians had known of its existence at least as early as the Fifth Dynasty and they probably made voyages there in the late Old Kingdom, some expeditions possibly setting out from Memphis and crossing over in the north, near Suez. The expeditions continued intermittently. In the Eleventh Dynasty, the Chief Steward, Henenu, led three thousand men on the king's behalf, taking the route which was used throughout the Middle and New Kingdoms. This involved crossing from Koptos to the harbour of Quseir, on the Red Sea coast, and then taking ships along the coast to Punt.
    Henenu's expedition obviously re-established the trade that had presumably lapsed at the end of the Old Kingdom, after the expeditions that the local governors of Elephantine had formerly undertaken for the king, had ceased. Henenu's journey was obviously well-planned and organised: men were sent ahead across the desert from Koptos to clear the ninety-mile route of marauding nomads and to dig fifteen wells to provide a water supply. Each member of the expedition was equipped with a staff and a leather canteen and had a daily ration of two jars of water and twenty biscuits. A donkey train also carried spare sandals to replace the men's worn footwear.
    At a place on the Red Sea coast (probably near the modern Wadi el Gasus), a special type of craft (known as *Byblos-ships) was built and the expedition set sail for Punt. On their return, they had to disembark and load the produce of Punt on to donkeys to take the overland journey back to the Nile Valley; this was a tiresome necessity since, at this date, there was no navigable waterway between the Nile and the Red Sea.
    Main sources for the current knowledge of Punt date to the Middle and New Kingdoms. It was apparently the land of tree-gum (myrrh or frankincense), which the Egyptians wished to obtain for use in their temple rituals. The most famous account is recorded on the walls of Queen *Hatshepsut's funerary temple at Deir el Bahri, where domestic projects are given an unprecedented emphasis because of the absence of military exploits during the queen's reign.
    This expedition occurred in Year 9 of her reign, and *Hatshepsut claimed (inaccurately) that it was the first of its kind. The scenes and accompanying inscriptions relate how the Egyptain ships arrived in Punt and how the envoys were greeted there by the bearded chief of Punt and his wife. The scene graphically illustrates the apparent physical deformities of this woman. It is also evident that the Puntites lived near a river in round-domed huts which were built on piles and had to be reached by ladders, and that the landscape included palm-trees and such animals as cattle, dogs, apes, giraffes and hippopotami.
    The Egyptian envoys appear to have traded with the Puntites by means of barter, and relations were obviously cordial, for they brought gifts of beer, wine, meat and fruit and, in exchange, obtained myrrh trees packed in baskets for planting in the Egyptian temple groves, as well as ebony, ivory, leopard skins and baboons. The cargo was weighed and measured, and loaded on to the Egyptian ships for the homeward journey.
    The Egyptians clearly regarded Punt and its inhabitants as exotic and mysterious and the Land of Punt is mentioned in some of the Egyptian love poems and popular tales as a faraway and romantic setting.
BIBL. Naville, E. The Temple of Deir el Bahari. (seven vols) London: 1894-1908; Lucas, A. Cosmetics, perfumes and incense in ancient Egypt. JEA 16 (1930) pp. 41-53.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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