Where Was the Land of Punt

A relief depicting Hatshepsut's expedition to the Land of Punt.

A relief depicting Hatshepsut’s expedition to the Land of Punt.

The ancient Egyptians documented everything. Surviving paintings and writings show details about almost every aspect of life in that place and era. Wars and 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 information unearthed by archeologists, the land called Punt was a great source of riches and slaves and 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 discovery of such a society would be a huge accomplishment for an archeologist.

The only problem is that nobody today knows where Punt was.

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

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 most 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 BCE. A large relief of a trading mission to Punt is featured on the walls of the temple. 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 concrete directions to Punt in their temples and such, or else we haven’t uncovered such evidence yet.

A wall relief in Egypt depicting a typical Punt House.

A wall relief in Egypt depicting a typical Punt House.

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.

There are various clues. Animals living in Punt, according to the Egyptian paintings, lived primarily in the area around the Red Sea on the Arabian peninsula. But other scholars, due to the origin areas of some of the traded goods, have proposed a location south of ancient Egypt in Africa. The surviving evidence is just not clear.

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 an ancient paradise.

References:
Price, Bill. “History’s Greatest Mysteries”.
Punt“, Wikipedia, pulled June 11, 2014

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published three books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.
  • Nathan Masters

    I’ve read many things about the land of Punt, and most of the clues do indeed seem to point to the Horn of Africa. But I’d also like to put forth another theory; the name ‘Punt’ sounds similar to ‘Punjabi’, the Persian name for the region of land between Pakistan and India. That land was part of the Indus Valley Civilization, which was well-known for its abundance of wealth and trade goods. The Hindu people believed it was the Land of the Gods, and it would have been understandable for the Egyptians to believe that they originated there. There were also huts from that area that look just like the one in the picture, and Punjabi would have been a long voyage by sea for people from the Nile Valley. And as for the plants and animals, the Hindus could have brought them from Africa before they were traded to the Egyptians.

    • bbapm raider

      Uh, no. It’s in the horn of Africa, there’s a fucking city called “Puntland”, are westerns really this dense. God damn.