The Mysterious Land of Punt

Hatshepsut’s expedition to the Land of Punt. Wikipedia
Hatshepsut’s expedition to the Land of Punt. Wikipedia

Ancient Egyptians liked to document everything. Surviving paintings and writings show details about almost every aspect of daily life in ancient Egypt. Wars, religion and rulers are all recorded in ways that have fortunately lasted into modern times. Business and trade were no different–extensive documentation chronicled who the ancient Egyptians were doing trade with and what exactly that trade was.

According to historical information, the land called Punt was a great source of riches, slaves, exotic spices, and wild animals. From the descriptions that survived, the land of Punt was a peaceful and prosperous country that seemed to have a wide variety of highly valued goods to trade. The only problem is that nobody today knows where Punt was.

Actually, people have searched for it a lot. The first problem is that we have to rely solely on ancient Egyptian information. No other ancient civilization, so far, has a single reference to the land of Punt–which is very unusual. This would imply that either Punt only dealt with Egypt which is not very likely, or else other societies referred to it by other names.

A typical Punt hut. Wikipedia

Any country with so many riches and expensive goods would be ripe for conquest, and yet there is no mention of Egypt (who went to war frequently with neighbors) ever going to war with Punt.

The best evidence about the land of Punt comes from a temple dedicated to the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut, who ruled for more than 20 years circa 1465 BC. A large relief of a trading mission to Punt is featured on the walls of the temple (featured image). We even know the names of the rulers of Punt during Hatshepsut’s reign: King Parahu and Queen Ati. But the Egyptians either forgot to put the exact location of Punt in their temples, or else we just haven’t discovered such evidence yet.

Queen Ati, wife of King Perahu of Punt, depicted on Pharaoh Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri. Wikipedia
Queen Ati, wife of King Perahu of Punt, depicted on Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahri. Wikipedia

According to the art that has survived, men from the land of Punt, unlike ancient Egyptians, had long hair and little facial hair. The people of Punt lived in round houses built on stilts–most likely to avoid damage from flooding in their land, wherever that land was.

Animals living in Punt, according to the Egyptian paintings, lived primarily in the area around the Red Sea on the Arabian peninsula. But other experts, due to the origin areas of some of the traded goods, have proposed a location south of ancient Egypt in Africa – Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea . The surviving evidence is just not concrete.

No remains have been unearthed by archeologists showing a civilization that equates itself to the land of Punt.

Author Bill Price even questions whether Punt existed at all, or was the equivalent of an ancient Egyptian imaginary utopia. This is possibly reinforced by an alternate name of Punt that translates into “Land of the God(s).”

There are even some tantalizing allusions that the Egyptians believed they originally came from Punt and journeyed and founded ancient Egypt after leaving that homeland.

Punt may currently lie below mounds of earth and sand and we won’t know the location of this marvelous land until future excavations unearth this ancient paradise.