For about two thousand years (c.2600–600 BCE), Punt appeared in Egyptian sources as a real geographical and political entity. Later, it featured as merely an antiquated entry in Greco-Roman period name lists. The phrase “God's Land” serves as a partial synonym for Punt in literary sources, but it covered a large area—almost anything northeast, east, or southeast of Egypt. In its heyday (c.2400–1170 BCE), Punt served the pharaonic government and temples primarily as a source of aromatics (ʿntyw and snṯr, normally understood as myrrh and incense), and also of gold, electrum (a natural silver and gold alloy), panther skins, and other exotica. Most of those goods reached Egypt through indirect trade by a chain of middlemen, except when the pharaohs dispatched occasional major expeditions to conduct direct trade with Punt. In the latter case, high officials from the court would, on occasion, lead the intended expedition as far as its Red Sea departure point, while a lesser royal envoy commanded it out to Punt and back. Then, the responsible higher official (like Chief Treasurer Nehesi under Hatshepsut) would present the results to the sovereign at court. Barter was the normal means of trade. In the case of Hatshepsut's expedition, the royal envoy in command brought Egyptian food products for his Puntite hosts, and “all kinds of things from the Palace.” These were brought officially for Hathor (the goddess for places outside Egypt), for whom a shrine was set up in Punt, but perhaps in practice they were goods to be exchanged for products sought by the Egyptians. Geopolitically, Punt consisted of a series of local chiefdoms (Egyptian references are to “chiefs,” in the plural). It is not clear whether (in Hatshepsut's time) Parehu, “chief of Punt,” was an overlord, or merely one ruler among many. Some chiefs of Punt returned to Hatshepsut's court with her expedition. Military action in Punt was probably logistically unrealistic, and could offer no advantage over peaceful trade. Mutual cultural influence, whether in ideas or artifacts, is not discernible—direct archaeological evidence is lacking.

The location of Punt was long disputed, having been first sought in South Arabia until the discovery of the Punt-reliefs of Queen Hatshepsut (c.1470 BCE), which showed Punt with African flora and fauna. After that find, it was often suggested to have been situated in Somalia (an East African country with well-known aromatic sources). A fresh study of all features was published by Rolf Herzog, in his Punt (Glückstadt, 1968), in which he made a strong case for locating Punt in eastern Sudan and northeastern Ethiopia. Through a misunderstanding of some Egyptian sources, however, Herzog failed to recognize the reality of Egyptian seafaring expeditions to Punt down the Red Sea—that the eastern Sudan/Eritrean coastline had also belonged to Punt (Kitchen 1971). The East African location is shown by the occurrence of giraffes in Hatshepsut's scenes, the symbiosis of dom palms with hamadryas baboons, and the depiction of the rhinoceros (thereby India and eastward being excluded); then, too, part of the Puntite population was negroid, and piledwellings were in use. Likewise, a mention during the Saite period (c.600 BCE) of the rain on the mountain of Punt draining into the Nile, requires an Ethiopian/eastern Sudanese setting, and rules out Somalia completely. Two pygmies brought from tropical Africa down the Nile to Egypt, in one case explicitly via Punt, in the fifth and sixth dynasties (c.2400 and c.2300 BCE, respectively), also serve to locate Punt. The gold of Amau reached Egypt by trade through Punt in one direction and by the Third and Fourth Cataract region of her own Nubian empire in another. This also points to an Ethiopian/eastern Sudanese location for Punt if Amau included part of the gold-bearing mountainous area of northeasternmost Sudan, east of the Fourth and Fifth Cataracts of the Nile and just north of Punt. The “mining region of Punt” may have adjoined the Amau deposits. In this situation, Egypt's access to Punt (and vice versa) could have occurred by two routes: the Nile Valley or the Red Sea. Egypt's great official expeditions to Punt clearly traveled by the Red Sea route—as shown by depictions in Hatshepsut's mortuary temple, in which Red Sea/Indian Ocean fishes swim below her ships. The route of Ramesses III's expedition went via the Wadi Hammamat to the Red Sea and back. Middle Kingdom inscriptions in the Wadi Hammamat (linking the Nile and Red Sea) and a harbor on the Red Sea near Quseir (with inscriptions there mentioning visits to Punt) confirm this route. In the New Kingdom, about 1450 BCE, Puntites in turn visited Egypt with their products, most likely by the Red Sea, but possibly using the Nile.

Bibliography

  • Bradbury, Louise. “Kpn-Boats, Punt Trade, and a Lost Emporium.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 33 (1996), 37–60. Advocates the Nile route for Puntite traders visiting Egypt; for some reservations, see Kitchen (1998) below.
  • Fattovich, Rodolfo. “The Problem of Punt in the Light of Recent Fieldwork in the Eastern Sudan.” In Akten des vierten internationalen Ägyptologen Kongresses München 1985, 4, edited by Sylvia Schoske, pp. 257–272. Hamburg, 1991. A valuable summary survey of local archaeology and interconnections in eastern Sudan, within terrain possibly part of ancient Punt.
  • Kitchen, K. A. “Punt and How to Get There.” Orientalia NS 40 (1971), 184–207.
  • Kitchen, K. A. “The Land of Punt.” In The Archaeology of Africa, Food, Metals and Towns, edited by Thurstan Shaw, Paul Sinclair, Bassey Andah, and Alex Okpoko, pp. 587–608. London/New York, 1993. A concise, documented survey from the Egyptian sources, including most of the ancient Egyptian pictures of Punt, Puntites and expeditions; with prior bibliography.
  • Kitchen, K. A. “Further Thoughts on Punt and its Neighbours.” In Egyptology Studies, edited by J. W. Tait, Egypt Exploration Society London, 1999. Seeks to define the bounds of Punt and its neighbors; reviews recent developments.
  • Naville, E. H., ed. The Temple of Deir el-Bahari, vol. 3. London, 1898. The primary publication, in line drawings and color, of all the Punt expedition scenes of Queen Hatshepsut in her Deir el-Bahri temple.
  • Smith, William Stevenson. “The Land of Punt.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 1 (1962), 59–61, with figure. Presents a fuller restoration of Queen Hatshepsut's depiction of the land of Punt than attained by Naville.

Kenneth A. Kitchen