Why Emmet Sweeney is Wrong About Punt

The Land of Punt was a land visited by several Egyptian kings throughout the ages, from the reign of Sahure to the reign of Ramesses III, by sailing from Mersa Gawasis. It is widely agreed among scholars to be in the area of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Eastern Sudan, that is, the sources of the Atbara and the coastal area between Suakin and the Gulf of Zula. This is based upon several factors:

1. The flora and fauna in the scenes at Deir el Bahari (pg. 277 onward), such as ebony, myrrh (‘ntyw/anti)*, and baboons are decidedly Eritrean/Ethiopian (see also here, p. 141). The giraffe is not from Punt, but from Khent Hunnefer, or Khent-hen-nefer, or Khenthennofer, another name for Kush (Nubia above the 2nd Cataract). The objection that the rhinoceros is of the Indian type has been answered by Kenneth Kitchen, “The same criticisms also largely apply to the rhinoceros; the presence of but one horn is of a piece with similar examples from Kerma and the stela Louvre C,14; all these examples are simply abbreviated, not of Indian origin (cf. Kitchen 1971: 187, and nn. 16-17).”.

*’ntyw/anti was probably not frankincense; while ‘ntyw was the product of Punt par excellence, mentioned in nearly every text relating to the products of the land (including Pap. Harris and in the Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor, where a sailor, after being stranded on an island off the coast of Punt, comes upon a Puntite prince rich in ‘ntyw), even being shown as being grown near the coast in the Hatshepsut reliefs. While the coastal ‘ntyw plants on the Hatshepsut reliefs look more like frankincense than myrrh, the finished large red lumps of ‘ntyw do look very much like myrrh. Sntr, meanwhile, was a poorer incense grown in both Egypt, Punt, and Retenu, and was probably the resin of one of the the Pistacia species khinjuk, terebinthus, or atlantica.

2. The people of Punt wore kilts, had skilled dancing Pygmies (one of which was brought to Pepi II), and could pronounce the letter “P”, even having a chief named “Parehu”, unlike the Arabs. This “Parehu” ruled with a finely-dressed queen named Ati, and the couple had two sons and a daughter shown by Hatshepsut, suggesting rich chiefs were hereditary monarchs. They also wore rings on their ankles (Parehu on both legs, Ati on one), a purely African custom. The Puntites also had strange housing in the form of huts on stilts, entirely unattested in Arabia or the Sinai (the inhabitants of those areas used Bedouin tents or stone or mud-brick houses-stilted huts were out of the question). An inscription found at el-Kab (ancient Nekheb) states “Listen you, who are alive upon earth . . . Kush came . . . aroused along his length, he having stirred up the tribes of Wawat (Lower Nubia) . . . the land of Punt and the Medjaw (Eastern Desert). . .”, supporting an African location for Punt.

3. Gold of Amau, generally identified with the Hassai mining area (18°42’N, 35°23’E), was imported by Egypt from Punt. Amau also served as a source of ivory and ebony (see Meeks’ article on Punt, pg. 65). A certain Userhat of the same land left a graffito at Sabu, near  19°56’20″N, 30°32’42″E. Amau was never mentioned as being visited by ship in either the Hatshepsut reliefs or anyplace else, strongly suggesting Punt need be placed in Abyssinia.

4. A certain 26th Dynasty stele found at Tahpanhes declares it a miracle and a blessing that there was rain upon the Mountain of Punt in late December/early January, since rain was scarce in the southern provinces of Egypt.

Some people however, choose instead to identify Punt with such places as Phoenicia (Sweeney), an utter impossibility-Hatshepsut sailed to Punt by way of the Red Sea, as the sea fauna in her reliefs suggest, and as Ramesses III’s explicit statement in Papyrus Harris, Breasted’s Paragraph 407, that

They arrived safely at the highland of Coptos. They landed in safety, bearing the things which they brought. They were loaded, on the land-journey, upon asses and upon men; and loaded into vessels upon the Nile, at the haven of Coptos. They were sent forward downstream and arrived amid festivity, and brought some of the tribute into the royal presence like marvels.”

proves beyond all doubt. Also, while balm was grown in Gilead (the road the Ishmealites took went from Gilead to Jezreel to Yehem, 32°22’6″N, 35° 1’54″E, to Egypt-recall that Dothan is at 32°24’47″N, 35°14’19″E), myrrh was certainly not. The “lot” in Genesis 37:25 and 43:41 was not myrrh (Heb. mor), but labdanum. Myrrh was never known to have been cultivated in the Jordan valley, and was always considered to be exclusively a product of the Horn of Africa, Oman, and Yemen. Palestine/Phoenicia was NOT “the only country associated with Hathor”! She was worshiped at such places as Serabit el-Khadim, where she was called “the lady of mafkat” (=turquoise/chrysocolla) and Atika/Timna, where there was a shrine to her. As Kitchen put it, Hathor was “the goddess of anywhere ‘abroad'”. Osiris, too, was not “specifically associated with Byblos”, but was also associated even more specifically with the Island of Biggah, 24° 1’12″N, 32°53’8″E
Thutmose III’s claim to have conquered “all the regions of Punt” is just an empty propogandistic boast to begin his first year, not something to rely on as evidence for anything. I would highly recommend David Lorton’s article for a further rebuttal.

Update, as of August 28, 2011: According to here, pg. 28, “[closed bottle/jar] imports from the southern Red Sea confirm that the Yemeni coast and possibly Eritrea were involved in the Egypt-Punt trade network”.

Update, as of February 18, 2013: According to here, pg. 26, a crate with the label “the wonderful things of Punt”, dating from the days of Amenemhat IV, has been discovered at Mersa Gawasis, thus solidifying Punt’s link with the Red Sea.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

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