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Land of Punt

10 May 2010
Ancient history

A story in the San Franscisco Chronicle at www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/05/-7/MNBN1D3U74.DTL May 8th appears to confirm the Land of Punt was somewhere in the Eritrea/Ethiopia region, a region favoured for some time by historians. To the Pharaohs the Land of Punt was the source of treasure – or prized objects of trade. This included exotic animals such as leopards and baboons. Punt was also known as Ta netjer, meaning God’s Land, and it is generally believed that Hatshepsut, for example, never went there herself, but sent an expedition. This is a feature at the Temple of Deir Bahri, and some have wondered if Punt was in the celestial sphere rather than an earthly tropical paradise. Punt has mystified scholars over the years – they have placed it variously in Mozambique, Somalia, Yemen, the Sinai Peninsular, and Palestine (in the Holy Land). The Chronicle reports on a conference in which scientists have ruled out all these locations and plumped for Eritrea/Ethiopia. It seems that Akhenaten sent an expedition to the Land of Punt and this is being linked to the discovery of an Egyptian dynasty 18 boatyard on the Red Sea coast. However, the key to the identification is the species of baboon found in Egyptian temples. One of them had hair taken away for analysis and it seems it originated in just this region – not too far south from the boatyard and agreeing quite amicably with consensus opinion. So is that it? Not quite as similar baboons inhabited the eastern part of the modern state of Sudan and one wonders if this animal may have reached Egypt via trade with the Nubians rather than from the Land of Punt. That is the beauty of science – it is open all hours.

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