Fifth Nome

Punt

Travel

Ta-Netjer: "The Land of the God"

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Punt is a fascinating land so exotic it is almost mythical. Seers prophesy that future people first think it's Somalia, but later think it is Eastern Sudan, or Ethiopia, southern Sudan, or the Eritrean region of Ethiopia where the flora and fauna match reliefs better. However, if Punt was so near, the people of the future wonder why there is no evidence of military conflict between Egypt and Punt as there is between Egypt and Nubia. People in the future do not seem to know where exactly this land is. Although we're surprised a future people could lose an entire land, we think it's appropriate that "The Land of the God" remains a mystery. Some feel "Land of the God" was a larger area and Punt was a part of it. It can also be called Pwenet (pwn.t). Punt is called God's Land because we use so many items from Punt in our temples. It is also called Amun's own pleasure garden.

The Puntites build conical reeds huts on poles that are above ground and are reached by ladders. At first, the people of Punt are shown with dark reddish skin and long hair, but by the 18th Dynasty, they had shorter hair. Children of the chiefs of Punt, Kush and Irem are raised at the Egyptian court.

There are several routes to Punt. Some trade is carried by land through Nmay and Iren (Sudan). In the Old Kingdom, Egyptians crossed the desert east of Memphis and then went down the Red Sea. Others started from Sinai. One expedition in the 6th Dynasty was ambushed and massacred while building boats that were meant for Punt. But in the Middle Kingdom and afterwards, the Red Sea route to Punt usually started from Gebtu, going on to Sawu or the Wadi Hammamat and Kuser. While some travel by land, most come by sea, from Kuser or other ports. In the New Kingdom, some may have traveled from the Head of Nekheb (the port of Berenike). Each year, fleets could be mounted from the Red Sea.

Punt is a commercial center for their own goods as well as good from other places around them. It is renown for its myrrh trees, and we import these for use in planting around temples. We also get incense like frankincense for religious festivals and rites, ebony (hebny), African blackwood and other woods, ivory, monkeys, cynocephallus baboons and other wild animals, spices, gold, aromatic resins, gums (Kemy), and cosmetics. From Punt also come skins of giraffes, panthers, and cheetahs, which temple priests wear. We sometimes also get live animals. Some say the pygmy god Bes came from Punt.

A relief from the 4th Dynasty may show a Puntite with one of Khufu's sons. In the Palermo Stone from the 5th Dynasty, King Sahure (2491-2477), gives the earliest recorded contact between Egypt and Punt. A 5th dynasty document says that kings of each period sent ships to Punt for myrrh and other items. A pygmy was brought from Punt during Djedkare's time (5th Dynasty, 2414-2375). Pepi II (2278-2184) in the 6th Dynasty sent Harkhuf to Punt, and he brought back pygmies. During Pepi II, Pepinakht led an expedition to punish some Asiatics who had murdered Egyptians building a ship meant for Punt.

When the Old Kingdom ended, so did contact with Punt. However, relations were reestablished in the Middle Kingdom. In the reign of Mentuhotep III, Henenu led an expedition to Punt. (Henenu had led a desert trading expedition to Arabia under Mentuhotep II). Sesotris I and Amenemhat II in the 12th Dynasty also sent expeditions to Punt.

In the 18th Dynasty in the New Kingdom, Hatshepsut sent perhaps the largest expedition, with possibly five ships with 30 rowers each. They went in the summer of Hatshepsut's 8th year in response to an oracle from Amun. Nehesi commanded the expedition, although Chancellor Senemut also went. They went to Kuser and then to Punt for myrrh, frankincense, fragrant unguents for cosmetics and ceremonies, myrrh resin, myrrh trees, ebony, ivory, "green gold of Emu," cinnamon wood, khesyt wood, two kinds of incense, apes, monkeys, dogs, and southern panther skins (Dunn, "Wonderful Land"). They also brought back people from Punt.

A relief from Hatshepsut's time shows her famous expedition. It shows the Puntite chief, his wife, two sons, and a daughter. The bearded chief's name was Parehuwas, and his obese wife with a curved spine was Ati. Some say she had Dercum's disease or lipodystrophy. Ati has a saddled donkey, which Egyptians of Hatshepsut's time felt was a little unusual because few Egyptians rode donkeys then. The relief probably shows a "silent trade" where neither side speaks, but both sides put down as many trade items as they think is equitable. The myrrh trees are said to have been planted before Hatshepsut's mortuary temple.

Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep III and Horemheb also sent expeditions. Ramesses II planted gardens from plants from Punt. Pictures showing Egyptian ships going back and forth from Punt continue into the Ramessid period.

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Sources

Bunson, Margaret. (1991). "Punt." A Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dunn, Jimmy. "The Wonderful Land of Punt." Tour Egypt Feature. InterCity Oz, Inc. http://touregypt.net/featurestories/punt.htm

Kamil, Jill. (1984, 1996). The Ancient Egyptians: Life in the Old Kingdom. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Kinnaer, Jacques. (2004, May 5, last update). "Punt and Ta-Netjer". Ancient Egypt From A to Z. http://www.ancient-egypt.org/glossary/punt.html

Shaw, Ian, and Paul Nicholson. (1995, 2003). "Punt." The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N Abrams, Inc.

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