Joshua J. Mark
published on 01 August 2011
The Land of Punt is best known for Queen Hatshepsut’s famous expedition in 1493 BCE in the 18th Dyanasty of Egypt, which brought back living trees to Egypt, marking the first known successful attempt at transplanting foreign fauna. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that the Egyptians were trading with the land of Punt as early as the reign of the pharaoh Khufu in the 4th Dynasty.
The exact location of the Land of Punt is unknown, and through the years it has been cited as part of Arabia, the Horn of Africa, present-day Somalia, the Sudan, or Eritrea. The debate goes on as to where Punt was located, with scholars and historians on every side offering plausible supports for their claims. It would seem, however, from the reliefs telling of the expedition carved on Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir al-Bahri, that Punt was likely located on the shores of the Red Sea. The Egyptians traveled there by boat down the Nile, through the Wadi Tumilat in the eastern Delta and on to the Red Sea. There is evidence that the Egyptian crews would disassemble their boats, carry them overland, use them in the sea for trade, then carry them back overland to the Nile.
A 4th Dynasty relief shows a Puntite with one of Pharaoh Khufu’s sons, and in the 5th Dynasty documents show regular trade between the two countries. Among the many treasures brought to Egypt from Punt were gold, ebony, wild animals, animal skins, elephant tusks, ivory, spices, precious woods, cosmetics, incense and frankincense and myrrh trees. The roots of the frankincense trees brought back from Punt by Hatshepsut’s expedition in 1493 BCE can still be seen outside of her complex at Deir al-Bahri. Reliefs on the walls of her temple there show the chief of the Puntites and his wife receiving the envoys from Egypt. So precise are these depictions that modern-day scholars have been able to diagnose the Puntite wife of the Chief, Aty’s, medical problems.
In the 12th Dynasty, Punt was immortalized in Egyptian literature in the very popular "Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor" in which an Egyptian sailor converses with a great serpent who calls himself the "Lord of Punt" and sends the sailor back to Egypt laden with gold, spices and precious animals. Perhaps because of this tale Punt became more and more a semi-mythical land to the Egyptians and, after Hatshepsut’s voyages there, no more is written about it in any factual way. Punt came to hold a strange fascination for the Egyptian people as a "land of plenty" and was known as "Te Netjer," the land of the gods from which all good things came to Egypt. Punt was also associated with Egyptian ancestry in that it came to be seen as their ancient homeland and, further, the land where the gods lived. Exactly why Punt was elevated from reality into mythology is not known but, after the 18th Dynasty, the land receeded further and further in the minds of the Egyptians until it was lost in legend and folklore.