Abdel Monem A. H. Sayed, Adulis, AECR, Afro-Asiatic, Ahmed El-Batrawi, Ahmed Ibrahim Awale, Alula, Amelia Edwards, ancient DNA, Ancient Egypt, ancient inscriptions, Antiquities Service of Egypt, Arrian of Nicomedia, Ati, Auguste Mariette, Axumite Kingdom, Édouard Naville, Barbaria, Bia-Punt, Book of Gates, Boswellia frereana, Carleton Coon, Caterina Cozzolino, Caucasoid, Cushitic, D'mt, Dalbergia melanoxylon, David O’Connor, Deir el-Bahri, Dimitri Meeks, Diodorus Siculus, Egyptian pantheon, El-Osbolé, Emmett Sweeney, Epiphanius of Constantia, Eric Robson, Ernest-Théodore Hamy, Ernesto Schiaparelli, F. Nigel Hepper, Flinders Petrie, frankincense, G. Billy, G. W. B. Huntingford, Gaston Maspero, George A. Hoskins, George Andrew Reisner, Georges Révoil, Giuseppe Sergi, Grafton Elliot Smith, Grand Procession, Hamitic, Hathor, Hatshepsut, Heinrich Karl Brugsch, Horus, Hyphaene thebaica, James Bruce, Johannes Maria Hildebrandt, John Desmond Clark, Kathryn Bard, Kenneth Kitchen, Laas Geel, Lady of Punt, Land of Punt, Lionel Casson, Medri Bahri, Meroitic culture, Mersa Gawasis, myrrh, Nathaniel Dominy, Neville Chittick, Northeast Africa, Palermo Stone, Papio hamadryas, Perahu, Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Precambrian, PROTA, Red Sea, Richard Pankhurst, Robert Bennett Bean, Robert Hoyland, Rodolfo Fattovich, Saww, Solomonid Dynasty, Stanley Balanda, stela, Ta netjer, Theodor von Heuglin, Toby Wilkinson, Wadi Gawasis, Zoscales
The Land of Punt was a major civilization in the ancient world. Located to the south and east of the Nile Valley, it was Dynastic Egypt’s main trading partner and the source of much of the frankincense, myrrh and other coveted products that were used by the Pharaohs in their traditional rituals and ceremonies. According to the Egyptian First Dynasty rulers or Horus-Kings, Punt (Ta netjer or “God’s Land”) was also their ancestral homeland.
Given its historical importance, Egyptologists have long debated just where exactly this mysterious territory was situated. The riddle appeared to have been finally solved in 2010, when preliminary isotopic analysis narrowed down the prospective locations to present-day Eritrea. However, follow-up isotopic work as well as DNA studies conducted since then, analysis of clay from pots that were brought to Egypt from Punt, and little-known botanical evidence and epigraphs firmly locate the ancient land in a broader region stretching from northern Somalia, Djibouti and the Eritrea/Ethiopia corridor to northeastern Sudan. The recent discovery of the first actual Puntite artifacts and their similarity to those of ancient Egypt has, in particular, confirmed the close ties between both areas.
Route to Punt
One of the key factors in pinpointing the location of the Land of Punt is its geographical proximity to ancient Egypt. In this regard, scholars have often indicated that the territory was situated to the south and east. But what exactly do they base this on?
In the 1850s, the Antiquities Service of Egypt discovered hieroglyphic texts in the vicinity of Thebes (Luxor) in Upper Egypt. These inscriptions identify Punt as a source of aromatics found to the east of Egypt. This, in turn, would prompt the Egyptologist Heinrich Karl Brugsch to postulate that the ancient land was located in the Arabian peninsula. A few years later, his colleague the archaeologist Auguste Mariette came upon geographical lists at the Karnak Temple, which had been left by the Pharaoh Thutmose III of the Eighteenth Dynasty (r. 1458–1425 BCE). These hieroglyphics include Punt among the territories that lay to the south of Egypt. The Egyptologist Abdel Monem A. H. Sayed explains:
The first lists of this kind, and the most comprehensive, are those of Thutmoses III, where the regional and site names are arranged in a manner coinciding with their geographical locations.
The list of toponyms of the African side of the Red Sea begins with the heading Kush, the Egyptian name for Upper Nubia. Under this heading are recorded 22 toponyms. Then comes the regional name Wawat or Lower Nubia, with 24 toponyms listed under it. After that, the list begins again from the south, recording regional and site names closer to the Red Sea shore. The regional name Punt is mentioned as a heading for 30 toponyms. After Punt comes Mejay as a heading of 17 toponyms. Lastly comes the regional name Khaskhet extending along the Red Sea shore of Egypt, with 22 toponyms listed (Schiaparelli 1916, 115-9).
This clear hieroglyphic account allows the following important deductions[…] The relation between Punt and the other regional names in the list (Kush, Wawat, Mejay and some of the toponyms under the heading Khaskhet), of which the African locations are agreed among Egyptologists, shows clearly that in the time of Thutmoses III Punt was the most southerly region and adjacent to the Red Sea coast. This is of great value for locating Punt during the New Kingdom in general, and the time of Queen Hatshepsut in particular, with which I deal later.
A 26th Dynasty stela was also recovered from the ancient site of Dafnah (Daphnae) near the Egyptian Delta, which contains an inscription stating that “when rain falls on the mountain of Punt, the Nile floods.” This is a clear allusion to the northern Ethiopian highlands, around Lake Tana where the Blue Nile rises (cf. Sayed (1989)). The Papyrus of Hunefer, a 19th Dynasty document by an Egyptian royal scribe, strengthens this association, for it too includes the Blue Nile within the confines of Punt. Van Auken (2011) notes:
The Greek historian Herodotus wrote, “Egypt was the gift of the Nile.” Three tributaries created this amazing river. The first is the White Nile, a long gentle river flowing from Lake Victoria — a high mountain lake bordered by Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. This tributary joins with the shorter but more voluminous and nutrient-richer Blue Nile, springing from Lake Tana in Ethiopia. And in ancient times, a third tributary joined these two, the Yellow Nile flowing from the eastern highlands of Chad. The Yellow Nile is now dry but was once a part of this trinity of rivers creating the ancient Nile.
Each year during the rainy season, the ancient Nile River would overflow its banks and inundate Egypt; as it retreated, it left behind nutrient-rich black silt that made Egypt one of the most fertile lands in recorded history. Today, two dams now control the Nile — there is no flooding and no rich silt fertilizer.
Around this river of life-giving water grew one of the greatest cultures on the planet. The ancient Egyptians called the river Iteru, meaning “Great River”; the modern name comes from the Greek Neilos (Nilus in Latin), transliterated to Nile.
The Edfu Text, found in the Horus Temple in Edfu, and the Papyrus of Hunefer tell the story of a “hill people” who became the first settlers of this region. “We came from the beginning of the Nile where god Hapi dwells at the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon.” The Mountains of the Moon are likely those that contain Lake Tana in ancient Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia), the origin of the Blue Nile. This name may be traced back to a Greek ruler of late Egypt, Ptolemy, and the use of the name “Mountains of Selene,” the moon goddess of the Greeks.
Coupled with some of the floral and faunal evidence discussed below, Mariette’s discovery and the Dafnah tablet helped shift scholarly opinion as to where Punt was situated (including eventually that of Brugsch himself) away from a hypothesized Arabian location to the adjacent Horn of Africa.
Cozzolino (1993) enumerates over 50 other hieroglyphic inscriptions relating to the Land of Punt, and a few additional engravings have subsequently been discovered. The earliest of these writings is the Palermo Stone. It informs us that an ancient Egyptian expedition to Punt brought back 80,000 measures of ‘ntiyw (a particular type of incense), among other items, during the thirteenth regnal year of Sahure (ca. 2445 BCE), the second Pharaoh of the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty. Unfortunately, the Palermo Stone does not specify where Punt itself was located. We do, however, have an idea of how Sahure’s men got there. In 2002, an inscribed block was found at the pyramid of Sahure in the Abusir necropolis, with two of its registers depicting the arrival of ancient Egyptian cargo vessels transporting goods from Punt. From this, we know that the Sahure expedition was carried out by sea rather than overland. Punt was therefore not a landlocked territory.
A Sixth Dynasty inscription provides an even clearer indication of the route that the ancient Egyptians took to get to Punt during the Old Kingdom. Phillips (1997) notes that Pharaoh Pepi II or Neferkare (2278/2269–2184/2175 BCE) dispatched one of his expedition leaders, Pepinakht, to retrieve the body of the official Anankhti, who had been killed by bedouins in the Eastern Desert (the “desert of the Asiatics”) while overseeing the construction of a ship intended for another commercial expedition to Punt. Thus, the particular water route that was favored by the ancient Egyptian rulers appears to have been via the Red Sea. This is confirmed by a later, Middle Kingdom rock inscription at Wadi Hammamat from the reign of Pharaoh Mentuhotep III or Senekhkere (r. 2004–1992 BCE) of the Eleventh Dynasty. According to the chief treasurer Henu, he was ordered by the king to build a vessel destined for Punt along the Red Sea littoral:
[My lord, life, prosperity] health[…] sent me to dispatch a ship to Punt to bring for him fresh myrrh from the sheiks over the Red Land, by reason of the fear of him in the highlands. Then I went forth from Koptos upon the road, which his majesty commanded me…
I went forth with an army of 3,000 men. I made the road a river, and the Red Land (desert) a stretch of field, for I gave a stretch of field, for I gave a leathern bottle, a carrying pole[…], 2 jars of water and 20 loaves to each one among them every day. The asses were laden with sandals[…]
Then I reached the (Red) Sea; then I made this ship, and I dispatched it with everything, when I had made for it a great oblation of cattle, bulls and ibexes.
Now, after my return from the (Red) Sea, I executed the command of his majesty, and I brought for him all the gifts, which I had found in the regions of God’s-Land. I returned through the ‘valley’ of Hammamat, I brought for him august blocks for statues belonging to the temple. Never was brought down the like thereof for the king’s court; never was done the like of this by any king’s-confidant sent out since the time of the god.
In 1971, the Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen demonstrated the feasibility of such ancient travel down the Red Sea coast by charting an actual itinerary to get to Punt. This maritime gazetteer includes 80 possible anchorage points, as well as the intervening distances between them. It stretches from the Port of Sudan to northern Eritrea, a broad region that Kitchen suggests was coextensive with the Land of Punt.
So we know from the existing hieroglyphic texts that the ancient Egyptians preferred to reach Punt by water, and through the Red Sea specifically. We also know that this navigation was doable. The question is, what actual port did the ancient Egyptians use for these trading expeditions once they had finished constructing their vessels? A stela that was discovered at Wadi Gawasis (Wadi Gasus) provides an answer. Erected by Khentkhetwer, an official under the Twelfth Dynasty Pharaoh Amenemhet II or Nubkaure (r. 1922–1878 BCE), it contains an engraving that explicitly identifies Saww as the port where Khentkhetwer and his men arrived after their voyage to Punt. The Khentkhetwer stela inscription reads:
Giving divine praise and laudation to Horus[…], to Min of Coptos, by the hereditary prince, count, wearer of the royal seal, the master of the judgement-hall Khentkhetwer[…] after his arrival in safety from Punt; his army being with him, prosperous and healthy and his ships having landed at Sewew (Saww). Year 28.
In 2004, archaeological excavations led by the Egyptologists Kathryn Bard and Rodolfo Fattovich at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis in Egypt identified this harbor as the old port of Saww, which the ancient Egyptians used during their expeditions to Punt. The excavators found a number of commodities at the site that may have been brought back from Punt, including fragments of carbonized ebony wood (Diospyros sp.) and obsidian. Since the latter volcanic glass does not occur naturally in Egypt, it was clearly imported from elsewhere. Lucarini et al. (2020) sought to identify the exact provenance of these artifacts, so they conducted a geochemical analysis comparing six obsidian fragments, which Sayed et al. had gathered from Mersa Gawasis some years prior, to those from various source areas in the Horn of Africa and Arabian peninsula (viz. sites in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Yemen). However, the scientists did not examine any obsidian culled from Djibouti or Somalia. Of the sites they did sample, Kusrale in Eritrea was found to be the most likely procurement location for five of the six analysed Mersa Gawasis obsidian artifacts. The other obsidian fragment appeared instead to have been obtained from the Dhamar Reda volcanic region in Yemen.
Moreover, the archaeologists working at Mersa Gawasis also discovered actual shipbuilding materials dating to the Middle Kingdom, such as anchors, timbers and huge steering oars, as well as 26 well-preserved coils of vessel-rigging rope that were lying on the floors of a cave. Most intriguingly, they came upon 43 cargo boxes from the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat IV (r. 1990–1800 BCE). Two of these boxes were engraved with a package label, which had been recorded by the scribe Djedy. It included inscriptions for his name, a cartouche of Amenemhat IV and regnal Year 8, and the phrase “wonderful things of Punt” in hieroglyphics. The cargo boxes were made of sycamore wood and were all empty since their contents, which are believed to have included frankincense, were apparently unloaded into containers or bags for later transport via caravan across the Eastern Desert. Additionally, Bard found a limestone stela with hieroglyphic text on it that commemorates two royal maritime expeditions to Punt and Bia-Punt (“Mine(s) of Punt”) during the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhet III (r. 1831–1786 BCE).
Researchers exploring the ancient seafaring vessels at Wadi Gawasis would later find ceramic fragments inside. These sherds once formed pots, which were used to hold goods for transportation from Punt to Egypt. The scientists also analyzed the actual clay that was used to make this pottery. They discovered that it came from the eastern coast of Africa, further proving that this area was indeed part of the Land of Punt (Hoare (2020)). More specifically, of the main prospective locations for the ancient territory, this finding points to Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia since Ethiopia is landlocked and Yemen is in the Arabian peninsula.
That the ancient Egyptians journeyed to and from Punt through a Red Sea route, and via the old port of Saww in particular, has thus been confirmed. What we shall now see is that the main landing point of these trading expeditions, at least during the New Kingdom, was in northern Somalia. As such, Punt was located in a more expansive area between Cape Guardafui and the Port of Sudan.
Flora and fauna of Punt
Besides the route taken to get there, another key aspect in situating the Land of Punt is the flora and fauna of the various proposed locations for the ancient territory. Specific plants and animals, which are said to have been native to Punt, are depicted on Egyptian temple walls and murals. Some of these “wonderful things of Punt” were also brought back to Egypt as gifts and offerings. Combined, this leaves us with invaluable information as to what kind of habitat the Puntites actually lived in.
In 1858, Mariette discovered a wall in the funerary temple of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut (r. 1479–1458 BCE) at Deir el-Bahri, which depicts an Egyptian expedition to Punt during the queen’s reign. The temple reliefs show in detail the flora and fauna of Punt, as well as the Puntites themselves. Among the clearly identifiable plants are doum palms (Hyphaene thebaica), tree species that were regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt. Kitchen argues that on the Somali coast, the doum palm is restricted to the southernmost areas, far from the suggested Puntite nucleus in the north. In actuality, the doum palm grows throughout the Somali territories. The traditional gourd used by Somali pastoralists (who historically expanded from the north) is, in fact, crafted in part from doum palm fibers. Accordingly, the Plant Resources of Tropical Africa (PROTA) foundation describes the geographical distribution of Hyphaene thebaica as follows:
Hyphaene thebaica is distributed from Senegal and Gambia eastwards to Somalia, and is especially common between latitudes 8°N and 12°N. It also occurs in Libya, Egypt, Israel, the Arabian Peninsula and western India. Hyphaene thebaica is often planted. It was already cultivated in ancient Egypt, where it was considered sacred.
One of the main products that the ancient Egyptians traveled to Punt to obtain was ebony. Through hieroglyphic inscriptions, which indicate that the Egyptians themselves chopped down the plant while in Punt (“cutting ebony in great quantity”), ebony is known to have grown wild in the territory. The Puntites apparently did not import it from elsewhere for later resale to the Egyptians.
Barnett (1999) notes that analyses of plant specimens found in tombs have confirmed that the particular variety of ebony that was used in ancient Egypt is Dalbergia melanoxylon. This species is endemic to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan alike, according to PROTA. In Somalia, ebony today has a limited distribution. Archaeological evidence, however, suggests that the plant was more abundant there too in Pharaonic times. On this likelihood, Ahmed Ibrahim Awale, a scholar who recently led excavations in northern Somalia (more on that below under Traces of ancient civilization), writes:
[Over] the past several millenia, so much has changed in the composition of vegetation in the Somali peninsula. The discovery of crocodile artifacts in Hargeisa valley suggest that a tropical riparian ecosystem existed in those areas. Therefore, it cannot be discounted that ebony, one of the chief exports from Punt, was sourced from the area. Diospyros spp., locally known as ‘Kolaati‘, is still found to a limited extent in riparian formations in Somalia.
Of all the items that were exported from the Land of Punt to ancient Egypt, frankincense was by far the most important. Sayed (1989) notes that the Deir el-Bahri murals record Pharaoh Hatshepsut as specifically commanding her party “to fetch (as the texts say) ‘fresh incense’, and ‘frankincense living trees’ from ‘the frankincense terraces of Punt’.” The main purpose of that Egyptian voyage to Punt — the largest sojourn of its kind to the ancient territory — was, therefore, to retrieve the prized aromatic resin. Indeed, the very reason why Hatshepsut organized such a massive expedition was because she wanted her men to bring back live frankincense trees for later transplantation in Egypt. Her temple reliefs show that each of the 31 heavy incense trees required 4 to 6 men to transport them to the cargo ships, or 124 to 186 Egyptian and Puntite carriers in total. Since there were around 150 crewmen on the expedition’s five vessels (30 per ship), this would mean that “the frankincense terraces of Punt” had to have been situated near the shore.
Sayed asserts that this incense-yielding locale, “the frankincense terraces of Punt”, was the northern Somali littoral. Specifically, the northeastern corner extending from Bandar Qasim to Cape Guardafui. He bases this in part on historical texts, which hail this region as an early center of incense production and exportation. Chief among these old documents is the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (Periplus Maris Erythraei), a travelogue written in the 1st century CE by an Alexandrian merchant. It indicates that a top-grade libanos peratikos or “incense from beyond the straits” (Bab el-Mandeb straits) was exported from ancient city-states that dotted this part of the Red Sea area, including Avalites, Malao, Mundus, Mosyllum, the Market and Cape of Spices, Pano (Panon), Opone (Opun) and Akannai (see map on the left). The Periplus specifies that the laurel-grove of Akannai/Acannae is “where alone is produced the far-side frankincense, in great quantity and of the best grade.” Likewise, the historian and philosopher Arrian of Nicomedia testifies that the best frankincense of his day was exported from the same area around Ras Fiel/Ras Filuk (Cape Elephant/Cape Elephas), just off the Acannae harbor in present-day Alula.
Sayed (1989) remarks that the ancient Egyptians imported two types of frankincense: a lower grade variety called sntr, and a higher grade variety known as ‘ntiyw or nty. According to inscriptions from the Sixth Dynasty travelers Harkhuf and Sebni, the lower grade sntr type was obtained from the Nile Valley or in Punt and was transported overland to Egypt. The higher grade ‘ntiyw incense was, on the other hand, exclusively acquired from Punt and was typically imported by sea. F. Nigel Hepper of the Royal Botanical Gardens reports that botanists have identified this ‘ntiyw variety with Boswellia frereana. Along with Boswellia carteri, he indicates that these are the incense types that are prevalent on the northern Somali littoral (cf. Sayed (2002)). Both species of frankincense have also been found in actual ancient Egyptian tombs (Lucas (1945)). This is pivotal since, according to Hepper, northern Somalia is the only area where Boswellia frereana grows in close proximity to the seashore, and on the requisite rocky hills to boot. Although such “terrace” land formations also occur in other parts of the Red Sea region, in Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan, frankincense here grows instead at a minimum of 100 kilometers inland. The tree varieties that are found in this hinterland are likewise different from Boswellia frereana.
As with its flora, the fauna of Punt that is depicted on the Egyptian frescoes and described in hieroglyphic texts is native (though not entirely exclusive) to the Red Sea region. Among these animals is the giraffe, which today is only found in Africa. Superficially, this seems to rule out an Arabian location for the Land of Punt. A closer reading of the ancient testimonials, however, reveals that the giraffe was apparently also present in parts of the Arabian peninsula and Levant during the classical period. The ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus refers to the species as “camel-leopards”, and notes that it used to roam the area between northern Arabia and Syria (cf. Scott (2012)).
In an analogous vein, the representation of what may be a one-horned rhinoceros on the Hatsheptsut temple reliefs has been suggested as being indicative of an Indian location for Punt. This is because two-horned rhino species are today limited to Africa, whereas the one-horned rhino is restricted to the Eastern Himalayas. However, as Kitchen (1971) observes, the rhinoceros figure in question, unlike the other animals depicted at Deir el-Bahri, is badly damaged, and this makes its identification difficult. Going by a similar “one-horned” rhino representation that was discovered at Kerma in Sudan, the depiction thus appears to have been an error. Kitchen writes:
That the beast seems only to have one horn (not two, as has the African rhino) is simply an error, analogous with that of one of the two Kerma representations of Middle Kingdom date (cf. Hilzheimer, ZÄS 67 (1931) 40), and with the stylized determinative of Louvre C. 14 accepted by Keimer (ASAÉ 48  52 and fig. 5).
The archaeologist John Bimson also indicates that early Egyptian hieroglyphs included a pictogram of a one-horned rhinoceros. This, in turn, suggests that the species may have once inhabited the Nile Valley (cf. Sweeney (2006)). In short, the ultimate geographical origin of certain of the land-dwelling fauna of Punt is inconclusive.
A rather different situation exists with the fish and other aquatic creatures that are illustrated on the same murals. Sayed (1989) points out that the Hatshepsut temple walls show marine species whose natural habitat is saltwater, including the lobster (palinurus). The body of water that is depicted therefore could not have been the freshwater Nile river, but instead more likely the Red Sea. Correspondingly, an analysis of the aquatic fauna on the Puntite temple reliefs by Eva Danelius and Heinz Steinitz found that the bulk of the specimens are indeed Red Sea varieties. As Kitchen (1971) notes, only a handful appear to be freshwater species, a fact which can be easily explained:
One factor largely discounted by Herzog (pp. 27, 55) is that of the fishes in the Deir el Bahri reliefs. These are, almost throughout, Red Sea/Indian Ocean fauna, with only two or perhaps three fresh-water species; see Eva Danelius and H. Steinitz, JEA 53 (1967) 15-24. If Hatshepsut’s expedition had reached Punt solely by travelling up the Nile, the overwhelming majority of Red Sea fishes is totally inexplicable. Why not solely Nile fauna, as in other Nile scenes? On the other hand, the Red Sea fauna fit a Red Sea route to Punt. The very few fresh-water fishes (a turtle; catfish, able to go in salt water, anyway; tilapia, dubious) could reflect the Nile part of the journey (Koptos-Thebes) or even fauna in Punt (River Baraka into Tokar Delta?), and pose an infinitely less problem.
Furthermore, a mural at Deir el-Bahri shows a Puntite village next to a body of water containing Red Sea aquatic species. This settlement consists of domes or bee hive-shaped huts, which are raised above ground on stilts and accessible by ladder. Balanda (2005) points out that in Northeast Africa, such edifices are today mainly restricted to the Nile Valley itself. He argues that this particular scene, therefore, appears to represent a northerly part of the Land of Punt situated closer to Egypt, as opposed to the more distant sections of Punt which are clearly located in the Horn (namely, the Frankincense Terraces of Punt, the Mine(s) of Punt (Bia-Punt), and the Mountain of Punt). However, some Cushitic peoples in the latter area do, in fact, build similar structures for the storage of grain and other agrarian products. Oromo agropastoralists have traditionally constructed silos, which they place on poles, much like the ancient Puntites did (see image above). Hence, this depicted sequence could, on that basis, actually have taken place in the Horn.
Additionally, the walls of the Hatshepsut temple’s upper Portico of Punt feature bas-reliefs of a mysterious bird, which was among the animal species brought to Egypt from Punt. The bird was originally assumed to be a crane because only its rear could be seen. However, the Egyptologist Filip Taterka of the Polish Academy of Sciences found a well-preserved depiction of the same species on a nearby wall block. Thanks to its unique head feathers, Taterka was able to identify the animal as the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius). This conclusion was also later confirmed by three ornithologists. Taterka’s finding is of particular importance vis-a-vis the debate on the whereabouts of Punt because the secretary bird only lives in open grassland in Africa. The species is endemic to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan alike; it actually serves as a national emblem in Sudan. This fact strongly tips the weight of evidence in favor of a Northeast African location for Punt (cf. Foundation PAP).
The most definitive faunal data regarding where Punt was situated comes from baboons (Papio hamadryas). These are among the creatures that are depicted on the Hatshepsut temple walls at Deir el-Bahri, as well as on other ancient Egyptian murals. Baboon remains have also been found within actual tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Moreover, in the Egyptian pantheon, the deity Thoth is often shown with the head of a baboon.
In 2010, a research unit led by Salima Ikram of the Egyptian Museum and Nathaniel Dominy and Gillian Leigh Moritz of the University of California analyzed hairs from two such mummified baboons, which had been kept at the British Museum. To determine the place of origin of the specimens, the scientists compared the baboons’ oxygen isotopic values with those of living baboon specimens from various hypothesized Puntite locations, including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. Although the isotope data of one of the baboons was distorted, initial results from analysis of the other specimen indicated that its oxygen isotopic values matched closest with those of modern baboons from Eritrea and eastern Ethiopia. This prompted Dominy to posit that “Punt is a sort of circumscribed region that includes eastern Ethiopia and all of Eritrea”. He also suggested that the port of Massawa in Eritrea may have been the landing point of the ancient Egyptians’ expeditions to Punt since a baboon specimen from that harbor matched well with their ancient baboon mummy.
In 2015, the same Egyptian and American researchers conducted a more comprehensive isotopic study to confirm their preliminary findings. This time they compared both hair and bone samples, which they had extracted from two New Kingdom baboon mummies, with those of living baboons from the primary hypothesized locations of the Land of Punt. Analyzing both oxygen and strontium values, the scientists found that the closest matches were with specimens endemic to eastern Somalia and the Eritrea-Ethiopia corridor. They thus concluded that this area was the likeliest source of the baboons that were exported from Punt to Ancient Egypt:
The tandem origins of maritime trade and international diplomacy have roots in the Red Sea region. Graphic and epigraphic accounts of this trade often provide specific place names, or toponyms, with unambiguous geographic locations. Yet the location of one crucial polity, Punt (or Pwnt), remains uncertain. Punt was a major emporium of gold, electrum, and biological materials such as myrrh, ebony, ivory, short-horned cattle, leopards, and baboons (Papio hamadryas). The importance of these materials is reflected in the 1200-year duration of trade between Ancient Egypt and Punt (Vth-XXth Dynasties; ca. 2458-1163 BC). The recovery of mummified baboons from several New Kingdom tombs, which was a period of thriving trade with Punt, raises the possibility of using stable isotope analysis to source their provenience. Here we report the oxygen and strontium stable isotope composition of two P. hamadryas mummies from XXth Dynasty tombs. We also analyzed the hair and bone of modern baboons in 106 habitats spanning five hypothesized locations of Punt: (1) Eritrea-Ethiopia; (2) Mozambique; (3) Somalia; (4) western Uganda; and, (5) Yemen. Isoscapes based on kriging interpolation of hair keratin δ18O values and bioapatite 86Sr/88Sr ratios were produced and an index of similarity was calculated based on the geometric mean of the two kriged maps. Our results reveal a high likelihood match with eastern Somalia and the Eritrea-Ethiopia corridor, suggesting that this region was the source of Papio hamadryas exported to Ancient Egypt.
In 2023, Dominy co-authored an archaeogenetic study which compared the mitogenome of a Late Period (c. 800-540 BCE) baboon specimen retrieved from Gabbanat el-Qurud (“Valley of the Monkeys”), Egypt, with those of other baboons recovered from various hypothesized Puntite sites in Africa and the Arabian peninsula. The scientists observed that the Gabbanat el-Qurud baboon carried the G3-Y mtDNA haplogroup, a baboon mitochondrial subclade whose present-day distribution is focalized around Eritrea and eastern Sudan, including the Adulis vicinity. Along with other lines of evidence (discussed below) — which indicate that, centuries before the establishment of the Axumite kingdom, Adulis was a key part of ancient Punt — this discovery further reifies that the Red Sea area in Northeast Africa was indeed the location of the old Puntite civilization (cf. Grathwol et al. (2023)):
Adulis, located on the Red Sea coast in present-day Eritrea, was a bustling trading centre between the first and seventh centuries CE. Several classical geographers––Agatharchides of Cnidus, Pliny the Elder, Strabo––noted the value of Adulis to Greco-Roman Egypt, particularly as an emporium for living animals, including baboons (Papio spp.). Though fragmentary, these accounts predict the Adulite origins of mummified baboons in Ptolemaic catacombs, while inviting questions on the geoprovenance of older (Late Period) baboons recovered from Gabbanat el-Qurud (“Valley of the Monkeys”), Egypt. Dated to ca. 800–540 BCE, these animals could extend the antiquity of Egyptian-Adulite trade by as much as five mummified baboon from Gabbanat el-Qurud and 14 museum specimens with known centuries. To explore this possibility, we analysed complete mitochondrial genomes from a provenance together with published georeferenced mitochondrial sequence data. Phylogenetic assignment connects the mummified baboon to modern populations of Papio hamadryas in Eritrea and eastern Sudan. This result, assuming geographical stability of phylogenetic clades, suggests that present-day Eritrea, and by extension Adulis, was a source of baboons for Late Period Egyptians. It also establishes geographic continuity with baboons from the fabled Land of Punt (Dominy et al., 2020), giving weight to speculation that Punt and Adulis were essentially the same trading centres separated by a thousand years of history.
Other products of Punt
In various hieroglyphic texts, the ancient Egyptians refer to Punt by another name: Bia-Punt. This roughly translates as “Mine(s) of Punt”, which indicates the primacy of gold among the imports from the old territory. A Sixth Dynasty inscription belonging to the Pharaoh Pepi II is more explicit, as it demands “more than the mining region of Punt” (Sagrillo (2014)). Punt, or at least some of the districts under its control, was thus a center of gold production. This fact is of considerable value in helping to narrow down its location since gold was and is only mined in select areas around the world.
The first mention of the new toponym comes from the Sixth Dynasty traveler Harkhuf (ca. 2250 BCE). In inscriptions recorded at Aswan, he asserts that he brought back products from “Bia-Punt”. Sayed (1989, 2002) notes that this is a clear allusion to gold, which Harkhuf had presumably imported overland through northern Sudan. In 1976-77, Sayed led a University of Alexandria expedition at Wadi Gawasis, where his archaeological team also found a Twelfth Dynasty stela “inscribed with a hieroglyphic text recording an order issued by King Sesostris I (Senusret I) to his vizier Antefoḳer to build ships to be sent to the region of Bia-Punt” (cf. Sayed (1978)).
Hence, Bia-Punt could be accessed through a water route. This implies that the region in question may have been coextensive with the Atbai desert in Sudan, which has long been a hub of gold mining. Other possibilities in the interior include the gold mines of western Ethiopia, as suggested by Eric Robson in his 2007 monograph In Search of Punt: Queen Hatshepsut’s Land of Marvels. Furthermore, Ibrahim (2013) reports that geologists have identified a zone in northwestern Somalia as potentially containing gold reserves. The Nubian Gold Corporation signed an agreement to prospect there, and the site has gold-quartz deposits with an estimated 13.5 gold parts per million. Since gold in Northeast Africa is associated with old metamorphic rocks — Precambrian geological formations that are found in all of these areas — Bia-Punt could conceivably have been situated anywhere within this traditional Puntite sphere. Eritrea would seem the most logical possibility, for it is the only territory in Northeast Africa and the Arabian peninsula whose entire geological structure consists of Precambrian rocks. On the other hand, Bressan (2013) notes that the geological formations of Yemen, Oman and other areas in Arabia are marked by recent sediments that are mostly bereft of gold. This makes the Arabian peninsula an unlikely location for Bia-Punt, the “Mine(s) of Punt.”
In addition to gold, slaves were among the main exports that the Puntites sent to their ancient Egyptian trading partners. Most of these captives appear to have been of “Negroid” ancestral stock. This is suggested by the Grand Procession mural in Thebes at the tomb of Rekhmire, a vizier under Pharaoh Thutmose III. The painting contains several registers or levels, which depict various foreign envoys submitting tribute to the ancient Egyptians, including Puntite, Cretan and Nubian emissaries. The Grand Procession’s uppermost register shows a couple of reddish-skinned, orthognathous Puntite delegates, who strongly resemble the mural’s similarly copper-toned Egyptian, Cretan and Hamitic-type Nubian figures. These Puntites are flanked to the right by jet black-skinned, prognathous men, who, except for their attire, are physically identical to the Nilotes in the Nubian panel. As Kitchen puts it, “beside the so called ‘Hamitic’ type (like Parahu) not very different from Egyptians in appearance, others represented were clearly of Negro stock” (cf. Balanda (2005)). The Grand Procession is paralleled by the Book of Gates mural in the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I, which similarly contrasts an Egyptian “Hamitic” type with a Nilotic “Negroid” type (Richardson (2003)).
Dimitri Meeks of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, like many other Egyptologists, believes that the conspicuously Nilotic folks on the Grand Procession represent the Puntites’ slaves. As such, they would have been accompanying their masters on this tributary voyage. The Egyptologist Stanley Balanda, however, argues that the “Negroid” individuals may instead have been diplomatic envoys too because “both races are being represented in the same way without distinctions being made to indicate any social or legal differences”. By his reckoning, the Nilotic figures would therefore have also inhabited some districts of Punt alongside the Egyptian-related Puntites. Meeks’ position on the slave origin of the “Negroid” individuals that are standing near the Puntites is compatible with an Arabian location for Punt (a geographic theory of which he is one of the main proponents). Balanda’s postulation is not, though, since there appear to be no indigenous populations in the Arabian peninsula, relict or otherwise, that have a similar phenotype (cf. Coon (1939)). On the other hand, both arguments are in line with a Northeast African locus for the Land of Punt.
“Negroid” groups — Nilotic and Bantu populations known in Djibouti and Somalia as jareer or adoon and in Eritrea and Ethiopia as shanqilla or barya (terms denoting “negro”) — have long constituted the bulk of the slave class in the Horn. In antiquity, most of these slaves were captured from the surrounding areas bordering South Sudan and the Great Lakes region. However, there is textual evidence pointing to an early presence of two separate ancestral stocks in Northeast Africa; one with “Hamitic” affinities, and the other of apparent “Negroid” origin. (*N.B. On a population level, the Afro-Asiatic speakers of the Horn generally do not intermarry with jareer/barya (“negroes”), whether at home or abroad. This is due to traditional beauty standards, which place a low value on “Negroid” features. These aesthetic preferences are how the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations have managed to maintain their distinctive physiognomies to a remarkable degree, despite being flanked by Niger-Congo/Nilo-Saharan/Khoisan communities with markedly different phenotypes. The Afro-Asiatic speakers’ reluctance to interbreed with “negro” groups also stems from a desire to preserve their own ancestral heritage (cf. Mwakikagile (2009), Gwyn (2013), Folklore Institute (2003)). Correspondingly, ancient DNA analysis has found that the early Cushitic settlers of East Africa were of North African ancestral stock, and that their modern descendants in the Horn share close affinities with them; see Ancient DNA from Ethiopia.)
This racial dichotomy was reported as far back as the kingdom of D’mt/Da’mat in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, which flourished around 3,000 years ago during the pre-Axumite period. According to Robert Hoyland, who conducted archaeological excavations in the area in 2013, inscriptions attributed to the kings of that polity describe its rulers as lords of “Da’mat, its east and its west, its Sabaeans and its immigrants, its red people and its black people”. Tibebu (1995) likewise notes that “the distinction between the saba qayh (red men) and tsalim barya (dark slave) was also made during the Aksumite period”.
In that regard, in keeping with the Grand Procession and other ancient Egyptian murals, the Asiatic Society (1968) reports that epigraphs belonging to the Axumite King Ezana differentiate between “red” Nubians and “black” Nubians; the former correspond with Hamito-Cushitic peoples related to the Egyptians, and the latter are associated with Nilotes:
The Nubians at that time also (as in previous centuries) were divided into the Red People or the Kasu or Cushites (Hamites like the Egyptians) and the Black People or Sudanian Negroids[…] these two peoples evidently were contrasted as “Red” and “Black” from their skin-colour; and as late as the fourth century A.D., the great Ethiopian King ‘Ezana, who conquered Nubia, differentiated between these two classes of Nubian.
Thanks to the medieval chronicle of the Ethiopian Emperor Susenyos I, we are able to precisely identify the descendants of the “red” and “black” populations in the Horn. The royal court historian refers to the Afro-Asiatic-speaking non-slave populations as qayh (red) and the “shanqilla” groups as tsalim (black) (cf. Pankhurst (1976)). In short, whether the “Negroid” figures that are standing beside the Puntites on the Grand Procession mural represent emissaries or slaves, either possibility is consistent with a Northeast African center for the Land of Punt. This is because there was both an early presence in the area of distinct “Hamitic” and “Negroid” populations (as depicted on said fresco), and a well-established slavery tradition involving Nilotic captives.
Besides the foregoing, other ancient Egyptian inscriptions indicate that the Puntites also exported a number of Pygmy slaves. Harkhuf writes that during the second regnal year of the Pharaoh Pepi II (r. 2278–2184 BCE), he brought back a dancing pygmy as a royal gift for the child-king, which he had acquired from Punt by way of the kingdom of Yam in the Sudanese region. The traveler also avers that another pygmy had been imported from Punt at an earlier date, during the reign of Pharaoh Djedkare-Isesi of the Fifth Dynasty (r. 2414–2375 BCE).
This begs the question, from where did the Puntites capture the Pygmy slaves to begin with? Perhaps somewhere in the central African hinterland, where they in fact have long been concentrated. Based on recent archaeological finds in an inland valley in northwestern Somalia (discussed below), Ibrahim (2013) argues that the Puntites had intermittently ventured even further in the interior, far beyond the boundaries of Punt and toward the Congo Basin and the gold mines of Mashonaland. There, they would have accessed slaves, additional gold reserves, and other commodities in the trans-regional trade networks for later barter with the ancient Egyptians. It would appear that such mercantile contacts persisted for centuries, as Leo Africanus testifies that the Sultanate of Mogadishu (Magadazo) originally controlled the gold trade at Sofala in present-day Mozambique (“this golden trade [at Sofala] was first in the power of the Moores of Magadazo”).
More parsimoniously, Lunde and Porter (2004) report that the so-called “Pygmies” brought back to Egypt might instead have been natural dwarves. This raises the possibility that these captives were simply short-statured individuals, and thus, plausibly drawn from the native hunter-gatherer communities of the Horn (as represented by the diminutive Chabo, Eyle and Ribi foragers) or Great Lakes regions (as represented by the small Hadza and Sandawe foragers). In support of these scenarios, Scozzari et al. (1999) observed a moderately high incidence of B-M60 haplotypes among individuals in northern and southern Egypt; Scozzari et al. (2014) also report that ~28% of Berbers in Egypt’s Siwa Oasis, a medieval hub of the slave trade, carry the B2a subclade (Table S7). However, this paternal lineage has not been found in ancient samples from either Egypt or Sudan (cf. this essay; Ancient DNA from Sudan). It instead today occurs at greatest frequencies among both the Hadza and Mbuti hunter-gatherers of southeastern and central Africa. Furthermore, genome analysis of modern Afro-Asiatic speakers in the Horn of Africa indicates that these individuals bear a predominant non-African ancestry (over 70%), with minor Sub-Saharan African admixture (~27%) that was in part derived from ancient East African foragers. This East African hunter-gatherer component is, however, rare among the contemporary Egyptian and Libyan samples (see Genetic affinities of the Cushitic, Ethiosemitic and North Omotic-speaking populations of the Horn of Africa). Ergo, the presence of haplogroup B in Egypt is indeed likely a legacy of the captured “Pygmies,” who — considering the absence of this clade from the Nile Valley’s archaeogenetic record — seem to have been imported in significant numbers only after the Graeco-Roman period.
During the Hatshepsut expedition to Punt, one of the key products that her party brought back with it to Egypt was henna (Lawsonia inermis) (IPA (1967)). A mural at Deir el-Bahri (shown below) depicts this queen’s men loading the plant onto their vessels alongside other cargo. The ancient Egyptians required the henna for cosmetic, medicinal and ritualistic purposes. To this end, actual mummies have been found in Egypt with traces of the dye on their hands, feet, nails and hair. Grafton Elliot Smith, for instance, states that the 18th Dynasty official Henttawi had his hair dyed a bright reddish color. This practice seems to date to at least the predynastic era, for Guy Brunton writes that a Badarian old woman apparently had henna-dyed hair of a light brown-red hue (Lucas and Harris (1999)). (*N.B. Brothwell and Spearman (1963) also observed authentically blond ancient Egyptian individuals; their hair samples were not affected by either hair dye or cuticular damage.)
The custom of using henna to decorate the body was, therefore, of some importance in ancient Egypt. It is also still adhered to by modern Egyptians. Moreover, henna is a cultural staple of the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in the Horn of Africa. Among Somalis, Afars, Oromos, Saho, Beja, Tigre, Jebertis and Hararis, the dye is used on a weekly basis for cosmetic adornment. More elaborate designs are reserved for special occasions such as wedding ceremonies, Eid celebrations and birthdays. Although usage of henna in the Horn is closely linked with Islam, the plant’s exportation from Punt suggests that, as in Egypt, this tradition is actually a holdover from remote times.
Kohl is another one of the “wonderful things of Punt” that were brought back to Egypt. The ancient Egyptians usually mined malachite and galena (lead sulphide) — the main elements used to make, respectively, the earlier green and later black varieties of kohl — at Sinai and the Eastern Desert, as well as in various areas in Upper Egypt. However, they would sometimes also import these cosmetic ingredients from the Arabian peninsula through Punt in the Horn region (Hardy et al. (2006)). During the New Kingdom, the Egyptians would procure kohl itself directly from Punt (Bard and Fattovich (2018)).
In ancient Egypt, kohl was liberally applied as eye-paint on both men and women. The predynastic Egyptians stored it in cosmetic palettes. These later evolved to small containers, and eventually to tubes, pots and spoons during the dynastic era. Besides kohl’s obvious aesthetic function, scholars have proposed that it may have also served a ritualistic or protective purpose insofar as its use was an attempt to symbolize the Eye of Horus (wadjet) (Mendoza (2017)). Likewise, the C-Group pastoralists of Lower Nubia, whom Oric Bates and George Andrew Reisner have identified as ancient Libyans, were known to apply the kohl eye cosmetic (E. S. Thomas (1926) notes: “the “C” Group people dressed in skins ; they used black eye paint and tatued their bodies, proving that they had light skins”).
The omnipresence of kohl in old Egypt is clearly reflected in dynastic period artwork. Monument walls and temple murals, such as at the Nebamun Tomb-Chapel, routinely show Egyptian figures wearing the eyeliner. Statues are likewise often depicted with painted eyes. This fact is especially interesting given that some ancient Puntite sculptures — which were recently excavated in northern Somalia; see discussion below — similarly feature contouring of the eyes, as if with kohl. Besides visual art, kohl is mentioned in the ancient Egyptian fable the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor. This story describes an encounter between a stranded Egyptian merchant and a talking snake, the latter of whom calls himself the “Prince of Punt.” The serpent offers to the trader a number of gifts to take back to Egypt, including kohl (Westling (1999)).
As with henna, kohl remains today in wide usage among Egyptians. The eye-paint is also a traditional fixture among the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in the Horn of Africa. This fact serves as yet another compelling reason why the ancient Land of Punt was almost certainly located in Northeast Africa.
One of the most insightful clues as to the location of the Land of Punt involves the etymology of the word Berber. It has often been assumed — incorrectly — that the appellative originated with the ancient Greeks as a cognate of barbaros (“barbarian”). However, the first mention of the term actually dates earlier to the New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1500 BCE), when it served as an ethnonym for the Puntites. Specifically, during the Hatshepsut expedition to Punt, the ancient Egyptians identified their Puntite counterparts as brbrta in hieroglyphic symbols. This is believed to have been an onomatopoeic imitation on the Egyptians’ part of the “bar” or “ber” sound that was apparently common in the Puntite language (cf. AECR (1976); Bowersock (2013)). In view of these hieroglyphics, the Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli suggests that the Puntites inhabited a region coinciding with northern Somalia, Eritrea (then part of northern Ethiopia), and the Atbara zone in northeastern Sudan (AECR (1976)):
In the “Dictionnaire des noms geographiques contenus dans les textes hiéroglyphiques” by H. Gauthier, the Italian Egyptologist Schiaparelli is quoted as identifying the inhabitants of Punt during the Hatshepsut expedition with the people living in the northernmost part of Ethiopia, what is now Eritrea, and in two cities named Berbera. One is situated just north of Atbara, the town at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, the other on the coast of Somaliland. Schiaparelli based his conclusion on the hieroglyphic signs which stood for the Puntites, namely [brbrta]. I believe that these signs brbr were an onomatopoeic attempt on the part of the Egyptians in the expedition to imitate the language of the people with whom they were dealing. The actual occurrence of brbrta as identifying the people of Punt, a historical people of ca. 1500 B.C., gives weight to the theory that it was here in the Egyptian New Kingdom that the word Barbar originated, rather than in the land of the Sumerians, or the Semites, or the Indo-Europeans.
Schiaparelli also bases his argument on the aforementioned Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a document which repeatedly alludes to “Berbers” living in these same areas. As a result, this territory was known to the ancient Greeks as “Barbaria” or “Barbara”, meaning the “land of the Berbers” (Huntingford (1980)). The Periplus indicates that there were Berber commercial settlements all along the Red Sea coast during the 1st century CE, with two such concentrations: one in the “Barbaria” in the Nile Valley around southern Egypt and northern Sudan, and the other in the “far-side” ports of the “other Barbaria” in the Horn (viz. “there are other Berber market-towns, known as the ‘far-side’ ports”). These Berbers/Puntites were therefore still trading in frankincense and other commodities in the southern part of their territory, just as they had over a millennium before in Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s time. This is confirmed by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, who tells us that the Pharaoh Sesostris I — a ruler that, as seen on the Wadi Gawasis stela, ordered at least one expedition to Punt during his reign — led his men to the “far-side” Berber port of Mosylon (Mossylum), a cinnamon emporium located in the present-day Bosaso area in northeastern Somalia.
Another key aspect of the Barbaria connection is the form of governance that the territory’s denizens were said to have adhered to. The Periplus indicates that the Berbers were divided into tribal communities, each ruled by its own chief. These independent city-states in the greater Barbaria were, in turn, overseen by a learned king or paramount chief named Zoscales (Zoskales):
On the right-hand coast next below Berenice is the country of the Berbers. Along the shore are the Fish-Eaters, living in scattered caves in the narrow valleys. Further inland are the Berbers, and beyond them the Wild-flesh-Eaters and Calf-Eaters, each tribe governed by its chief; and behind them, further inland, in the country towards the west, there lies a city called Meroe.[…]
These places, from the Calf-Eaters to the other Berber country, are governed by Zoscales; who is miserly in his ways and always striving for more, but otherwise upright, and acquainted with Greek literature.[…]
The voyage to all these farside market-towns is made from Egypt about the month of July, that is Epiphi. And ships are also customarily fitted out from the places across this sea, from Ariaca and Barygaza, bringing to these far-side market-towns the products of their own places; wheat, rice, clarified butter, sesame oil, cotton cloth, (the monache and the sagmatogene), and girdles, and honey from the reed called sacchari. Some make the voyage especially to these market-towns, and others exchange their cargoes while sailing along the coast. This country is not subject to a King, but each market-town is ruled by its separate chief.
As in the Berber period, the various Puntite districts were apparently governed by separate leaders. This is clear from Egyptian hieroglyphics, which Balanda (2005) notes repeatedly allude to the “chiefs” of Punt in the plural. For example, an inscription at Deir el-Bahri reads: “pitching tents for the king’s representative and his (the king’s) expedition to the myrrh terraces on both sides of the sea[…] in order to receive the chiefs of this land.” Likewise, an inscription at Sinai, which dates from the 36th regnal year of the Pharaoh Amenophis III (r. 1390–53 BCE), records an official indicating that: “I went forth by the sea coast (pr.n=j hr-gs wtd-wr) to announce the marvels of Punt to receive aromatic gums which the chiefs had brought (jn.n wrw) in their Khementy-boats as revenue from unknown lands.” The loosely centralized governmental structure of the Berbers/Puntites, therefore, also appears to have remained essentially unchanged since the New Kingdom.
(*N.B. From the Deir el-Bahri hieroglyphic text above, we also learn that there were “myrrh terraces on both sides of the sea,” which the ancient Egyptians visited during their sojourns in Punt. This statement appears to give some credence to Balanda’s assertion that the Puntites inhabited both the Horn of Africa and the neighboring parts of the Arabian peninsula. Other evidence to that effect includes linguistic analysis by Alexander Militarev, who identified a Cushitic substratum in the Modern South Arabian languages. Militarev, an advocate of a Levantine origin for the Afro-Asiatic language family, suggests that this signifies that a) Cushitic speakers originally dwelled in Arabia, in an area adjoining that of the speakers of the MSA languages, b) most Cushitic speakers later migrated to Northeast Africa, and c) the Cushites who stayed behind in the Arabian peninsula were assimilated by their Semitic neighbors (cf. Blažek (2013)). Since the ancient Himyarites occupied the Hadramout governate and southwestern areas in Yemen near the domain of the MSA speakers, it is relevant to note that “in the 5th century the Himyarites, in the south of Arabia, were styled by Syrian writers Cushaeans and Ethiopians” (Baynes (1878)). Additional evidence supporting Balanda’s contention includes genetic and anthropometric analysis: Non (2010) observed close mtDNA ties between various Cushitic/Ethiosemitic-speaking populations of the Horn and Yemenis from the Hadramout governate, and Billy (1988) reported that his Cushitic and Ethiosemitic-speaking samples shared anthropometric affinities with Yemenis.)
Ancestral and spiritual homeland
The ancient Egyptians held a special reverence for the Land of Punt. Known to them as Ta netjer or Ta nuter (“God’s Land”), they regarded it as both their ancestral homeland and a spiritual center. Thus, whenever the ancient Egyptians depicted the Puntites on their temple walls, they consistently showed them as being similar to themselves in appearance and size (unlike other non-Egyptians, who were instead frequently caricatured). Punt was likewise always identified in the hieroglyphic texts without the determinative symbolizing a foreign territory.
The Egyptologist Gaston Maspero summarizes these conventions as follows:
The legends which seem to bring the ancestors of the Egyptians from the Red Sea coast have already been mentioned. They are closely connected with the worship of the Sky and Sun god Horus of Edfu. Hathor, his nurse, the “House of Horus,” the centre of whose worship was at Dendera, immediately opposite the mouth of the Wadi Hammamat, was said to have come from Ta-neter, “The Holy Land,” i.e. Abyssinia or the Red Sea coast, with the company or paut of the gods. Now the Egyptians always seem to have had some idea that they were connected racially with the inhabitants of the Land of Punt or Puenet, the modern Abyssinia and Somaliland. In the time of the XVIIIth Dynasty they depicted the inhabitants of Punt as greatly resembling themselves in form, feature, and dress, and as wearing the little turned-up beard which was worn by the Egyptians of the earliest times, but even as early as the IVth Dynasty was reserved for the gods. Further, the word Punt is always written without the hieroglyph determinative of a foreign country, thus showing that the Egyptians did not regard the Punites as foreigners. This certainly looks as if the Punites were a portion of the great migration from Arabia, left behind on the African shore when the rest of the wandering people pressed on northwards to the Wadi Hammamat and the Nile. It may be that the modern Gallas and Abyssinians are descendants of these Punites.
Correspondingly, George Rawlinson reports that hieroglyphic inscriptions variously describe Amun, the king of the ancient Egyptian gods, as the Hak or King of Punt. The sky deity Horus is also venerated as “the holy morning star which rose to the west of the land of Punt.” Moreover, a Ramesside monument inscription at Sinai identifies the lunar god Thoth as the “Lord of Punt” (cf. Shaheen (1998)). As the historian Amelia Edwards further notes, the greatest and one of the oldest of the ancient Egyptian female deities, Hathor, was in fact styled as the “Lady of Punt”:
The Egyptians entertained an extreme reverence in the abstract for the Land of Punt, which apparently formed part of a larger district known generally as Ta-nuter, or the Land of the Gods. Hathor and Bes, two of the principal deities worshipped by the Egyptians had their divine origin in Punt, and Hathor was adored under a special form as “The Lady of Punt.” Bes, in his grotesque features and general characteristics, is clearly a barbaric divinity, and is occasionally represented as nursing or devouring the large cynocephalus apes depicted in the wall-sculptures of Dayr-el-Bahari as indigenous to the Land of Punt. The Egyptians appear to have cherished a vague tradition of their own origin as natives of Ta-nuter at some extremely remote period ; and it is interesting to note that the curved beard characteristic of these natives of the Land of the Gods is a special attribute of divinities as well as of deified personages in Egyptian art.
The respect that the ancient Egyptians had for Punt, and its associated goddess Hathor in particular, is perhaps best expressed by Pharaoh Hatshepsut herself. Hieroglyphic inscriptions attributed to this monarch remark (Manley (1996)):
It is the sacred region of God’s Land; it is my place of distraction; I have made it for myself in order to cleanse my spirit, along with my mother, Hathor… the lady of Punt.
Given the above, we can better situate ancient Punt by examining whether or not the various hypothesized Puntite locales once had an established spiritual cult devoted to deities from the Egyptian pantheon. To this end, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder refers to the area near present-day Bulhar in northwestern Somalia as the “Port of Isis”, so named after the Egyptian goddess Isis (Österreichische Leo-Gesellschaft (1941)). Certain pastoral-themed rock art in northern Somalia, such as at the Laas Geel site, likewise seems to depict worshipers honoring the deity Hathor, the presiding “Lady of Punt” and figurative “mother” of Queen Hatshepsut (cf. Ibrahim (2013)).
Egyptologists have long acknowledged that whichever geographical location truly conforms with the Land of Punt, it should have populations that share close biological ties with the ancient Egyptians; or, at the very least, with the ancient Egyptians’ lineal descendants, the modern Egyptians. This rules out Mozambique and Uganda since their Bantu and Nilotic majorities are fairly recent settlers, and these groups also do not have any significant affinities with the ancient and modern Egyptians. The Afro-Asiatic (Hamitic-Semitic) speaking populations of the Horn, Sudan, Maghreb and the Arabian peninsula, on the other hand, are in an altogether different position. Anthropological studies have confirmed that they share close physical and genetic ties with Egyptians as a whole. This perhaps should not come as a surprise, for the ancient Egyptians were Afro-Asiatic speakers too.
As seen at Deir el-Bahri, among other archaeological sites, the ancient Egyptians consistently show the Puntites on their temple walls as being very similar to themselves in physical type — just as though these groups were sibling populations. The Puntites are depicted as moderately tall and of gracile build, with “Caucasoid” features and reddish-brown skin; they also frequently wear their hair long. John Desmond Clark writes:
The Puntites are depicted in several Eighteenth Dynasty scenes. Typically, the men have dark reddish skins and fine features; characteristic negroid types are not shown, although they occur amongst depictions of riverine southerners (of Wawat, Kush, Irem, etc.). Other Puntite features are also not found amongst other southerners. Long hairstyles are typical for Puntites until the reign of Amenhotep II; during his reign and earlier, in that of Tuthmosis III, an intermediate ‘bobbed’ hairstyle appears, and thereafter Puntites have close-cropped hair similar to that of the chief of Punt under Hatshepsut. A long or medium dressed goatee is found at all periods
Such external morphological traits are relatively common among the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations on either side of the Red Sea (see, for example, the anthropometric studies Leguebe (1981) and Billy (1988) below). For our purposes, then, the skeletal characteristics of these groups are more useful in locating Punt.
In terms of height, the Egyptologist Édouard Naville states that the Puntite chief Perahu (Parahu) is depicted on the Deir el-Bahri temple walls as “a tall well-shaped man.” This portrayal concurs with the estimated stature of an ancient individual excavated at Heis (Xiis), a site in northwestern Somalia corresponding with the old “Berber” port of Mundus (discussed further below). Measurement of the total length of this adult male skeleton (c. 21 to 46 years in age), which was exhumed from Tomb 75, produced a height of around 1.68 m (cf. González-Ruibal et al. (2022)). When adjusted for flesh covering the bones in the living and minor osteological shrinkage from dehydration, this gives a stature close to the averages of 1.729 m and 1.723 m, respectively, which Boughey (1971) reported for his Dir male sample from northwestern Somalia and Puccioni (1931) reported for his Darod male sample from northeastern Somalia.
Additionally, Kemp (2006) found that the ancient and modern Egyptians are craniometrically closest to other Afro-Asiatic speakers inhabiting Northeast Africa. They are also more distantly related to populations in the Near East, but share no significant affinities with the ancient and modern “Negroid” populations in Africa. Spradley (2006) compared the skulls of recent populations from northern Somalia and Egypt with those of various Subequatorial African groups and recently mixed African Diaspora populations, including African Americans (who are descended from Niger-Congo speakers, with ancillary European and Native American admixture). She similarly observed that the individuals from “Somalia and Egypt are closest to one another.” Likewise, Terrazas Mata and Benavente (2013) report that their Horn of Africa and Dynastic Egypt samples craniometrically cluster together, separately from their Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan and Khoisan-speaking samples. The scientists attribute this shared affinity between the Horn and Egyptian groups to common descent from ancestral Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations, whom they suggest ultimately arrived from the Middle East. In the same vein, Adel et al. (2021) note that:
Craniofacial features are considered one of the most unique features of populations with different ethnic backgrounds. The Egyptians present facial features close to those of Northeast Africans, Mediterranean Asians, and Europeans, all of them sharing Caucasian ancestry.
The biological ties between the Afro-Asiatic-speaking groups in Northeast Africa are, in fact, so well established that researchers have moved on to exploring which specific ancient “Hamitic” series in the region they share the most immediate affinities with (e.g. Batrawi (1946); Mukherjee (1955); Billy (1977); Billy (1981b); Rösing (1990)). G. Billy (1975) summarizes these findings thusly:
During the dynastic era, this last [Upper Egyptian] variety covered a wide central zone of the Nile valley, stretching well beyond towards East Africa, as shown by the similarity which persists with the present-day Ethiopian populations (Tigre) or even Somali. By virtue both of its diffusion and its perenniality, they deserve to be assimilated to the basic population type of the Egypto-Nubian complex.
Altogether, this highlights the close relatedness of the Puntites and ancient Egyptians, ancestral populations whose apparent descendants have remained biologically proximate.
In addition to the preceding, Egyptologists have noted a sporadic occurrence of blondism in the Land of Punt. This can serve as a helpful hint as to where the territory was situated, for blond individuals were relatively uncommon in the ancient world. The Hatshepsut expedition murals show the Egyptians being received by a chief of Punt, the aforementioned Parahu/Perahu, who Édouard Naville writes is depicted as “flaxen” or blond-haired.
Sweeney (2006) argues that this precludes both the Horn and Southern Arabia as prospective locations for the Land of Punt since there are few blond individuals today among the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in these areas. He asserts that the blondism points instead to an Indo-European source centered in the Near East; either the Indo-Iranian mariyanna elites of the Levant, or the Phoenicians (whom he suggests may have acquired such an element through intermarriage in western Europe). However, ancient blond individuals did, in fact, exist in the Nile Valley itself. Archaeologists working in burial sites associated with the Meroitic culture have unearthed a number of clearly blond specimens. Janssen (1978) reports that “330 graves were excavated in cemetery 221 (Meroitic) and a proportion of blond individuals of Caucasoid type found” (refer to Hrdy (1978) for additional examples). Given these finds, the minor incidence of blondism among the Puntites more likely reflects a Meroitic strain in this population than a direct Indo-European one (for empirical evidence of such an influence, see Batrawi diagram above). This, too, is in agreement with a Northeast African locus for Punt.
(*N.B. Lazaridis et al. (2022) conducted a comprehensive analysis of phenotypic traits borne by ancient individuals exhumed in Europe and Asia, and report that blond hair was most common among their early European samples (viz. 62.5% in Early Medieval Germany, 42.9% in Pre-Christian Iceland, 40% among ancient Saxons of England, and 40% among the Motala hunter-gatherers of Sweden; cf. Supplementary Materials). By contrast, the scientists did not observe instances of blond hair in any of their examined ancient Levantine samples, except for a low frequency of 14.3% among specimens from Chalcolithic Israel — a situation clearly ascribable to foreign influx since no blond individuals have been found among both earlier Levantine samples from Mesolithic and Neolithic Israel and later Levantine samples from Middle-to-Late Bronze Age Israel. In brief, archaeogenetic analysis has confirmed that the blondism documented among the Meroites and ancient Egyptians is almost certainly affiliated with early European populations, as are the instances of red hair in the Nile Valley (refer to Ancient DNA from Sudan). For details on these ancient peoples, who introduced the Steppe genome component to Northeast Africa, see Genetic affinities of the Cushitic, Ethiosemitic and North Omotic-speaking populations of the Horn of Africa.)
Along with comparative morphology, genetic analysis provides much information on the likely location of ancient Punt. Examination of uniparental lineages, which include both Y-DNA (paternal) and mtDNA (maternal) haplogroups, has revealed strong ties between the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in the Horn and Nile Valley.
Trombetta et al. (2015) observed that around 74.5% of southern Egyptians are haplogroup E1b1b-V12* or E3b1a1 carriers (cf. Supplementary Table 7). According to Hirbo (2011), this clade is next most prevalent among Cushitic-speaking populations in East Africa (Garreh=74.1%, Gabra=58.6%, Borana Oromo=50%). E1b1b-V12 is also immediately ancestral to the V32 subhaplogroup that constitutes the main paternal lineage among ethnic Somalis from Somalia (80%) and Tigre individuals in Eritrea (60%) i.e., in the core ancient Puntite area. (*N.B. While the Tigre nowadays speak a Semitic tongue, their language contains a North Cushitic (Beja) substratum. This suggests that they were originally Cushitic speakers, who later adopted a Semitic language from South Arabian settlers in the Eritrean highlands. Accordingly, Hirbo (2011) reports that his sampled Beja individuals overwhelmingly belong to the E1b1b paternal haplogroup (100%). Hassan et al. (2008) further indicate that most of their Beja male samples, like the Tigre, fall under the clade’s V32 subhaplogroup.)
Antonio et al. (2019) identified E1b1b-V12 in two Imperial and Medieval Roman individuals, remarking that “this haplogroup is present at high frequency across present-day North Africa, especially in Egypt (up to 74.5%)” (cf. Supplementary Materials). Moreover, Sirak et al. (2021) observed a prevalence of the Y125054 subclade of V12 among Christian-era Nubian individuals from Kulubnarti in Sudan. These specimens also had considerable West Eurasian ancestry, which the scientists propose was likely derived from Egypt. Prendergast et al. (2018) further indicates that an ancient Cushitic individual (ca. 3350-3180 BP) excavated at Cole’s Burial, Kenya, a site associated with the Pastoral Neolithic cultural complex, bears the CTS3282 sublineage of V32. As of 2021, this is the earliest reported instance of E1b1b-V32 in the archaeogenetic record.
Similarly, mitochondrial analyses by Stefflova et al. (2011) and Boattini et al. (2013) found that the maternal haplogroups that are common among the Cushitic and Semitic-speaking Afro-Asiatic populations in the Horn are also frequent among the Afro-Asiatic speakers in Egypt. These shared clades include the M1 haplogroup, whose earliest occurrence has been detected among Epipaleolithic Iberomaurusian specimens excavated at Taforalt (Loosdrecht et al. (2018)) and early Neolithic individuals buried at Ifri n’Amr or Moussa (Fregel et al. (2018)), both located in Morocco. Loosdrecht et al. (2018) note that the M1 and U6 mtDNA lineages are “mostly confined to present-day populations in North and East Africa” and that “U6 and M1 have been proposed as markers for autochthonous Maghreb ancestry, which might have been originally introduced into this region by a back-to-Africa migration from West Asia.” Stevanovitch et al. (2004) also report that M1 is now particularly common in Egypt’s Gurna Oasis, suggesting an ancestral connection between the Gurna population and other Afro-Asiatic-speaking communities in the Horn of Africa.
As discussed on Ancient DNA from Ethiopia, the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in Northeast Africa also appear to share the same autosomal DNA (auDNA) signature. Hodgson et al. (2014) observed that ethnic Somalis, Afar, Amhara, Tigray and Oromos are defined by a West Eurasian-affiliated ancestral component, which they refer to as “Ethio-Somali”. Dobon et al. (2015) found that roughly the same ancestral element defines Egyptian Copts, Beja, Afro-Asiatic-speaking Ethiopians, Sudanese Arabs, and many Nubians (evidently, individuals descended from the Hamitic Kasu or “red” Nubians). By contrast, Hodgson et al. discovered that the Omotic-speaking Ari are defined by a separate, Nilo-Saharan-affiliated ancestral component, which the researchers call “Ethiopic”. Thus, the Ethio-Somali/Coptic and Ari components appear to correspond rather closely with the “red” (“Hamitic”) and “black” (“Negroid”) ancestral populations, respectively, that are depicted on the ancient temple walls and mentioned in the hieroglyphic inscriptions as having inhabited Punt. This is also confirmed by López et al. (2021), who compared the genomes of the Afro-Asiatic-speaking groups in Ethiopia with those of other global populations, both ancient and modern. The scientists identified a West Eurasian ancestral component among the local Afro-Asiatic speakers, which they suggest is Egypt-related and traces back to the inhabitants of the Land of Punt:
Ethiopians in the southwest, typically NS speakers plus a few non-NS speaking groups (Chabu, Dasanech, Karo), are more related to Bantu and Nilotic speakers relative to AA speakers in the northeast that instead show more ancestry related to Egyptians and West Eurasians (Fig 3, Fig S12). The inferred timing and sources of admixture related to Egypt/W.Eurasian-like sources, starting around 100-125 generations ago (~2800-3500 years ago; Fig 3, Fig S12) as in previous findings (Pickrell et al., 2014; Pagani et al., 2012), is consistent with significant contact and gene flow between the peoples of present day Ethiopia and northern Africa even before the rise of the kingdom of D’mt and interactions with the Saba kingdom of southern Yemen which traded extensively along the Red Sea (Currey, 2014; Phillipson, 2012). This timing is also consistent with trading ties between the greater Horn and Egypt dated back only to 1500 BCE, when a well-preserved wall relief from Queen Hateshepsut’s Deir el-Bahari temple shows ancient Egyptian seafarers heading back home from an expedition to what was known as the Land of Punt (SI Section 1A).
Ancient DNA analysis provides the most direct genetic evidence that the Land of Punt was located in Northeast Africa.
In 2013, a research unit led by Rabab Khairat of the University of Tübingen completed the first genetic study utilizing next-generation sequencing techniques to gauge the ancestral lineage of an ancient Egyptian. The scientists extracted DNA from the heads of five Egyptian mummies dating from the Late Dynastic to Ptolemaic periods (806 BCE–124 CE). They found that one of the mummified individuals belonged to the I2 mtDNA haplogroup. This discovery is especially interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the I maternal clade is closely associated with the spread of Indo-European speakers because the lineage has been detected among various ancient cultures on the European Steppe. This implies early migrations from this area into Northeast Africa; either directly from Europe or indirectly through Asia. Secondly, haplogroup I is today quite rare globally and exceeds 5% in few populations. The clade is by far most common among the Rendille and other Cushitic-speaking remnant groups inhabiting the Great Lakes region, where it has been observed at frequencies as high as 23% (cf. Castrì et al. (2008)). Thirdly, the basal or ancestral I* haplogroup has only been identified in three persons worldwide. Of these individuals, two are from Somalia and the other is from Iran (Olivieri (2013)). Lastly, I2 (formerly known as N1e) is a subclade of N1. Yatsishina et al. (2021) indicate that the haplogroup N is the most frequently occurring maternal lineage among the ancient Egyptian mummies they examined at the Kurchatov Institute (2 out of 3 specimens or ~67%). Similarly, Kılınç et al. (2016) report that N1 is the most commonly borne maternal haplogroup among the central Anatolian Neolithic individuals they studied (5 out of 9 or 55.56% of the examined specimens). This mitochondrial lineage is nowadays also rare but likewise peaks in frequency among Afro-Asiatic speakers in the Horn. (*N.B. The Rendille proper (who are known as asil or original Rendille) are distinct from the Ariaal (or assimilated Rendille). The Ariaal are instead people of Nilotic Samburu origin and “Negroid” appearance, most of whom still speak their native Nilo-Saharan language.)
In 2018, a research unit led by Konstantina Drosou of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology again used next-generation sequencing to examine the DNA of ancient Egyptian individuals. The samples were culled from a tomb at Deir Rifeh and were dated to the Middle Kingdom (1985 BCE–1773 BCE), making them the second oldest Egyptian specimens so far to be genetically analyzed. They comprised the mummies of Nakht-Ankh and Khnum-Nakht, a pair of 12th Dynasty aristocrat siblings, who shared a mother but had different fathers. The Two Brothers were found to belong to the M1a1 haplogroup. As mentioned above, this maternal lineage is today most common among the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations inhabiting the Horn of Africa and Nile Valley. (*N.B. The oldest Egyptian specimen thus far analyzed, the 4000-year old mummy Djehutynakht, Overlord of the Hare (15th) nome of Upper Egypt, belongs to the U5b2b5 mtDNA haplogroup. This is an early European maternal lineage, which has been found among Early Bronze Age Sardinian individuals (cf. Olivieri et al. (2017); Marcus et al. (2020)). It is also borne today by Berbers in Egypt’s Siwa Oasis. Ergo, we see here again that the population affinities of the earliest Egyptians are not Semitic (in the modern sense), much less Nilo-Saharan/Niger-Congo/Khoisan (cf. Loreille et al. (2018)).)
Interestingly, Schuenemann et al. (2017) also observed both the M1 and I mitochondrial clades as well as the E1b1b-V22 paternal haplogroup in their analysis of later New Kingdom to Roman Period (c. 1388 BCE–426 CE) Egyptian samples from Abusir el-Meleq. The researchers, moreover, identified some J clade bearers. However, it is unlikely that older Egyptian individuals from the Early Dynastic (c. 3000 BCE–2650 BCE) and Predynastic (before 3000 BCE) epochs belong to this Y-DNA lineage. This is because, although haplogroup J arrived in Egypt from the Middle East, the earliest reported example of this clade in the Levant/Arabia is quite recent, being first attested there in a 3700 year old (c. 1680 BCE) Bronze Age specimen (Haber et al. (2017)). Furthermore, the nobleman Nakht-Ankh, who is the oldest Egyptian individual to have his Y-DNA successfully identified, appears to belong to the H2m clade (cf. HaploTree; Open Genomes). In the paleogenetic record, H2 is a patrilineage mainly affiliated with populations bearing Anatolian Neolithic ancestry; particularly Neolithic Europeans (e.g. Cassidy et al. (2020)). The H2 paternal clade has also been detected in an individual linked with the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, a culture in the Levant dating from an era marked by the arrival of new settlers carrying Anatolian Neolithic ancestry (Lazaridis et al. (2016), Table S6.1). In addition, Gad et al. (2020a) affirm that the ancient Egyptian aristocrat Yuya, the maternal great-grandfather of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, belongs to the G2a clade. Like the H lineage, the Y-DNA haplogroup G is primarily associated with early populations bearing Anatolian Neolithic ancestry.
(*N.B. Gad et al. (2020b) report that the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep III (b. 1411 BCE), his son Pharaoh Akhenaten, and grandson Pharaoh Tutankhamun carried the R1b haplogroup, a typical European paternal lineage (also see Gad et al. (2020a)). iGENEA specifies further that they belonged to the clade’s M269 subhaplogroup, which now accounts for over half of all Y-DNA lineages in western Europe. What’s more, according to DNA Consultants, the 20th Dynasty Pharaoh Ramesses III (b. 1217 BCE) and his son Prince Pentawere (“Unknown Man E”) bore the V22 sublineage of the E1b1b haplogroup. The V22 subhaplogroup is today most common among the Cushitic-speaking Saho population inhabiting Eritrea (cf. Trombetta et al. (2015), Supplementary Table 7). Ramesses III and Pentawere were initially thought to have belonged to the E1b1a clade, an error caused by an incomplete analysis of their Y-STR markers: Whit Athey’s Haplogroup Predictor, the tool that Hawass et al. (2012) indicate they used to determine the rulers’ paternal lineage, does not have an option for GATAH4, one of the markers that Ramesses III and Pentawere were originally analysed for; when GATAH4 and the other Y-STR markers are inputed into the Nevgen Haplogroup Predictor, these men are instead assigned to the E1b1b-V22 clade. Additionally, Yatsishina et al. (2021) examined ancient Egyptian mummies at the Kurchatov Institute, and found that the specimens likewise carried the E1b1b-V22 and R1b-M269 haplogroups (see Ancient DNA from Sudan for hair morphology analysis conducted on the Kurchatov Institute’s ancient Egyptian mummies). All in all, this suggests that ancient Egyptian individuals may have borne the common North African E1b1b lineage, as well as R1b and Anatolian Neolithic-associated haplogroups (e.g. the T, H and G clades) before the haplogroup J first entered the Egyptian gene pool. It is known that the J clade was introduced to the Semitic-speaking areas of the Levant and Arabia during the Bronze Age, by outsiders from the Caucasus/Iranian plateau who carried the Caucasus Hunter-Gatherer genome component. However, when exactly this western Asian admixture spread to the Egypt area is uncertain. Morez (2023) proposes that this introgression first occurred during the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1650-1550 BCE), an epoch marked by the Hyksos invasion of Egypt, since genomic analyses of an earlier, Old Kingdom Egyptian individual from Nuerat (dated to c. 2868-2492 BCE) did “show a strong genetic affinity of this sample to Levantine Natufians.” By contrast, “the Nuerat sample did not carry the Caucasus Hunter-Gatherer genetic component that started to spread across West Asia ~4000 years ago and is widely spread in present-day populations.”)
Additionally, Schuenemann et al. analyzed phenotype alleles carried by several of their ancient Egyptian samples. They reported that two of the individuals bore the derived allele of the SLC24A5 gene, a variant that is associated with lighter skin coloration (this mutation has also been found among ancient Cushitic pastoralists in East Africa; cf. Wang et al. (2020), Table S7). However, the specimens carried ancestral alleles at the Europe-specific SLC45A2 locus and other pigmentation-related genes. Altogether, this suggests that they had a light brown complexion. These findings are consistent with notarized contracts from the Pathyrite and Latopolite nomes. In these legally-binding documents, almost all of the ancient Egyptian signatories indicated that they had a “honey-coloured complexion”, with a “long face”, “straight hair” and a “straight nose” (Van Dorpe (2004)).
In 2020, Ester Oras of the University of Tartu and colleagues examined two ancient Egyptian child mummies, which likewise dated from the Late/Graeco-Roman Periods. They found that one of the individuals bore the HV haplogroup, an mtDNA lineage that nowadays occurs most frequently among Afro-Asiatic speakers; particularly Egyptians from El-Hayez oasis (Kujanova ́ et al. (2009)), Somalis from Somalia (Musilová et al. (2011)), and Asni, Bouhria, Figuig and Siwa Berbers (Coudray et al. (2009)).
Urban Christian et al. (2021) conducted a comprehensive archaeogenetic study of ancient Egyptian individuals. The samples were culled from six different archaeological sites across Egypt, a time transect spanning 4000 years of Egyptian civilization. According to the researchers, the analyzed specimens carried mtDNA lineages similar to those previously identified at Abusir. This, in turn, indicates that almost all of the examined ancient Egyptian individuals bore derivatives of the Eurasian M and N maternal lineages.
Almarri et al. (2021) compared the DNA of ancient Egyptian individuals from the Pre-Ptolemaic era with that of the modern Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in the Horn of Africa. Analysing single nucleotide variants (SNVs), the scientists found that their Pre-Ptolemaic Egyptian specimens provided the best-fitting model for the source of the West Eurasian ancestry borne by the Horn groups, whereas their ancient Levantine sample from Sidon appeared to have contributed most of the West Eurasian ancestry carried by the present-day Arabian and Levantine populations. These results represent a significant advancement over other genomic analyses (e.g. Razali et al. (2021)), which by contrast insisted on employing Levantine or Arabian samples as reference populations in lieu of ancient Egyptian samples. As a consequence, these studies substantially undercounted the Horn groups’ actual West Eurasian ancestry. Thanks to Almarri et al.’s better designed and more logical analysis, we can now estimate that ancient Egyptian-related ancestry is present at frequencies of around 70% among Cushitic and Ethiosemitic-speaking individuals of the Horn, with a percentage climax in Eritrea and likely northern Somalia (cf. Table S4). (*N.B. Sirak et al. (2021) analyzed Christian-period individuals buried at Kulubnarti in Sudan, and similarly observed that “we obtain a fit only when Egypt_published is used as the West Eurasian-related proxy.” Sirak et al. (2022) also note that “ancient DNA data suggest that the African gene flow observed in present-day Egyptians occurred predominantly within the last 2000 years.” Thus, whenever ancient Egyptian samples have been utilized as a reference population, they have proven to be the best-fitting surrogate for the West Eurasian ancestry borne by the Nubian and Afro-Asiatic-speaking groups in Northeast Africa.)
Almarri et al. indicate:
Kitchen et al. (2009) suggested that Semitic languages would have spread into East Africa with little gene flow, as Ethiosemitic-speaking populations share similar proportions of non-African ancestry and are genetically similar to Cushitic-speaking populations, confirmed by more recent analysis (Pagani et al., 2015). They proposed that the current distribution of Ethiosemitic languages reflect a language diffusion process through African populations, rather than gene flow. Our admixture tests Tables S3 and S4 also suggest an ancient Egyptian source of ancestry in East Africa, rather than from Arabia, although ancient DNA from Arabia is still missing to make a comparable analysis.
In summary, genetics strongly relates both the modern and ancient Egyptians with contemporary Afro-Asiatic-speaking groups elsewhere in Northeast Africa. This perfectly concords with Puntite origins for the latter populations. (*N.B. For detailed analysis, see Genetic affinities of the Cushitic, Ethiosemitic and North Omotic-speaking populations of the Horn of Africa.)
Traces of ancient civilization
Stone ruins, inscriptions and coins
One of the principal challenges in locating the Land of Punt has been the absence of artifacts that could be definitively identified with an ancient Puntite civilization. Perhaps the closest thing to that were two v-shaped arm-clamps made of ivory, which were found in an Old Kingdom tomb at Shellal in Upper Egypt. Some writers initially proposed that the person buried within the grave may have been a Puntite envoy. However, the Egyptologist David O’Connor later demonstrated that the man was, in fact, an Upper Nubian emissary since an Upper Nubian figure is shown wearing a very similar armlet on the causeway of Pharaoh Sahure’s mortuary temple in Abusir (cf. Wilkinson (2002)).
Aside from this false positive, various early scholars and colonial officials discovered traces of an ancient civilization in the Horn; one apparently distinct from and older than the Axumite Kingdom. The explorer Georges Révoil encountered many stone ruins while in northern Somalia, as well as inscriptions in a mysterious writing script.
On this lost orthography, the Ministry of Information indicates that:
An important point which is often lost sight of is that the ancient Somalis had evolved their own script systems which existed for a considerable period in their history. Convincing historical evidence in this respect is the numerous inscriptions and rockpaintings on cave-walls, on granite rocks, old coins etc., that are found to this day in various parts of the country.[…]
An interesting point, however, is that this script system was apparently based on vowel sound, not a Word-Picture writing as in ancient Egypt.
The foregoing rules out the known Sabaean and Himyarite writing systems since they and other ancient Semitic scripts, except Ge’ez, have no vowels (for details on Sabaean finds in northern Somalia, see Prioletta et al. (2021)). Likewise, it seemingly disqualifies the Libyco-Berber orthography, for it too is an abjad (examples of this ancient script, known as Tifinagh, have recently been found in Somalia). The above also precludes Meroitic hieroglyphs because they were derived from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. However, Meroitic cursive remains a possibility; especially since, as an abugida, it has inherent vowel representation. In this regard, the scholar Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis (2021) notes that “even today both [the Afar and Somali] languages retain ample Ancient Cushitic vocabulary that was written in Meroitic hieroglyphic and cursive writing before 2000 years. The Somali word ‘boqor’ (king) is identical to the title of the Cushitic kings of Meroe: ‘Qore’.”
(*N.B. Another plausible candidate is Linear A, the undeciphered second script used by the ancient Minoans of Crete (the other two writing systems being Cretan Hieroglyphs and Linear B). Several of the characters etched on the cave walls and granite rocks in northern Somalia, where most of the examples of the old Somali orthography have been found, can clearly be identified with Linear A symbols. Among these are the cross-filled circle or encircled cross (represented as the ka syllabogram in Linear A, such as on the Tablet ARKH 3a discovered at Arkhanes), the three open circles (similar to Linear A characters carved into Tablet HT 31, found at Haghia Triada), as well as various signs which Ester Salgarella of St. John’s College — who created the SigLA online database for Linear A — refers to as being “more like Chinese ideograms.”)
During excavations of one of the tumuli at Salweyn (Salwine), Révoil found ceramic fragments of apparent Macedonian origin. These objects and other recovered items, which include Ptolemaic and Roman era artifacts, are presently kept at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris (cf. Desanges (1992)). Révoil was also able to discern a definite ancient Egyptian and Classical influence in the local culture and populace, notably in terms of physiognomy, customary law, attire, weaponry and vocabulary. These findings inspired him to declare that Auguste Mariette was indeed right, and that he had in fact stumbled upon the Punt of antiquity. The Geographical Society of Marseilles explains:
Being detained by bad weather near Hais, in a small creek named the Salwine, M. Revoil landed to get ballast, and found on the banks of the creek a great number of tumuli, similar in every respect to those which he had met with in all parts of the country, and had photographed in the course of his expedition. For the first time, and not without danger, he succeeded in partially excavating one of these tumuli, and brought to light a tomb and close alongside some remains denoting the former existence of a very advanced civilisation, including some superb enamels, fragments of pottery from Samos, and a mask, indicative of a Greek colony. Taking the observations of Dr. J. C. Prichard, who described a type, in connection with the information he obtained himself in regard to the existence of a white Galla race living farther south on the borders of Webi, M. Revoil put forward the suggestion that the present Somali race bears the marks of the existence of a white colony, very probably Macedonian, and that this colony, according to the traces he met with in the interior, has been preserved almost intact in this white tribe of Gallas. M. Revoil found besides in their idiom, arms, and dress, strong arguments in support of his opinion, which he further corroborated by an important series of profile photographs.
The scientist Johannes Maria Hildebrandt would likewise remark that:
We know from ancient authors that these districts, at present so desert, were formerly populous and civilised. I also discovered ancient ruins and rock-inscriptions both in pictures and characters. These have hitherto not been deciphered.
Over the ensuing years, Ernest-Théodore Hamy, George Andrew Reisner, Grafton Elliot Smith and many other prominent Egyptologists would echo these sentiments on similar grounds, insisting that Punt was to be found in the Horn.
In a remarkable coincidence, the Alexandrian merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes records a Greek inscription, which he had seen on a stela in Adulis, Eritrea. The basalt slab was apparently erected there by the Egyptian king Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221 BCE) to commemorate his conquest of various kingdoms in the Near East. Phillips (1997) suggests that this signifies that Adulis itself and environs were at the time under the control of Ptolemaic Egypt:
The location of the stela observed by Kosmas, at Adulis, suggests the king had ordered it to be erected somewhere around there, possibly in gratitude for providing the means to conquer (he boasts) virtually all of Western Asia; it could hardly have been brought there by chance. This suggests, in turn, that Adulis (or the nearby place where it originally was erected) and by extension the area immediately inland, was sufficiently controlled by Egypt that its king could erect a self-laudatory stela there.
During the early 1920s, C. W. Hayward also uncovered a hoard of old coins at Port Dunford, a site in southern Somalia that is thought to correspond with the Periplus’ ancient market-town of Nikon. H. Mattingly later published these numismatic finds in 1932. Among the pieces were 22 Ptolemaic mints (c. 3rd-1st century BCE), 6 of Imperial Rome, 46 of Byzantium (primarily 4th century CE), 6 of Mamluk Egypt, and 7 of Ottoman Egypt.
In 1975, the archaeologist Neville Chittick more fully explored some of the visible ancient structures at Ras Hafun (the Periplus’ Opone) and other areas in northeastern Somalia. He described a number of heretofore obscure ruins, including stone platform monuments near Alula and sherds of unglazed Roman pottery at Damo (the Market and Cape of Spices described in the Periplus). No actual Puntite material objects, though, had yet been excavated, and most of the Egyptian imports that had been discovered were of Ptolemaic age or younger. Consequently, supporters of a Levantine or Arabian location for Punt would often cite this archaeological void as a primary reason why the ancient territory could not have been situated in the Horn. As Sweeney (2006) concluded (somewhat prematurely), “nor was there in Eritrea or Somalia, in the time of Hatshepsut or Thutmose III, any civilization or culture of the type portrayed at Deir el Bahri that the Egyptians could have traded with[…] this topic [is] of fundamental importance to the whole debate”.
In 2013, the scholar Ahmed Ibrahim Awale led excavations at Gol Waraabe, a site in Hargeisa valley in northwestern Somalia, where his archaeological team unearthed what appear to be the first actual artifacts belonging to the Land of Punt. As discussed in greater detail on The Mystery of the Land of Punt Unravelled – book review, the recovered objects include stone statuettes and bowls of considerable antiquity. The human figurines, in particular, bear an uncanny resemblance to those produced in ancient Egypt and by other early Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in the Sudan area. These commonalities range from similar headdress styles, oval face shape, keen facial features and Puntite beard (Osiris beard), to analogous cobra and vulture headdress emblems, and crook and flail symbolism. Ibrahim describes the busts’ likeness thusly:
our Puntite personages tell a different and more reliable story[…] The oval face, thin lips, aquiline nose and the slender feature are all typically Somali.[…]
Of the many convincing features to be seen in our Puntite artifacts, I want to present the below figurine (fig. 6) which carries two symbols of authority among ancient Egyptians. The crook (heka) and the flail or flabellum (nekhaka), are two of the most prominent items in the royal regalia of ancient Egypt.[…] Now let us compare it with the next picture (fig. 7) which stands for King Tutankhamun. Both figurines display the two sticks. Again both of them carry on their heads the cobra snake and the vulture as a symbol of the deities Wadjet and Nekhbet. The royal cobra (uraeus) was worn by the pharaohs over their brows. It was thought to spit fire at the pharaoh’s enemies. Another great similarity of the two figurines is the divine osird beard which in death, the kings were frequently portrayed wearing it.[…]
Another common similarity between the Puntites and Egyptians is the headgear which is clearly seen in the below Puntite statuette found in Hargeisa. Again the cobra snake and vulture are mounted on their forehead while the osird beard is attached to the chin.
Most of the statuettes that were dug up appear to depict male personages. However, at least one is manifestly that of a woman. The bust in question (shown above) has the same standard “Caucasoid” features and oval face shape, but her head is more narrow and her nasal bridge and visage are exaggerated in length. This figure is also wearing a headpiece that looks very similar to the cap-crown donned by the Egyptian female Pharaoh Nefertiti (r. 1370–1330 BCE), which suggests that she may represent a Puntite queen. Other conspicuous similarities between the excavated Puntite statuettes and ancient Egyptian figurines include the practice of artificial cranial deformation (which was evident on certain other busts), and worship of deities from the Egyptian pantheon, like Sobek.
Although Ibrahim did not manage to date the artifacts, particular headdress styles present on several of the figurines give us a rough idea of when they were likely made. For starters, one of the sculptures, an anthropomorphic statue of a male, is wearing what appears to be the hedjet or White Crown of Upper Egypt. This headdress predates the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by the Pharaoh Narmer (Menes), the last king of the predynastic period and founder of ancient Egypt’s First Dynasty. Several of the male statuettes are also donning the nemes, a headcloth topped on the brow by the cobra (uraeus) and vulture (nekhbet) emblems. The nemes was the most commonly depicted royal headdress in ancient Egyptian art from the Old Kingdom onwards (cf. Russman (1997)). Ergo, these Puntite busts seem to have been hewn either during the predynastic epoch or in the Early Dynastic period, though later manufacture cannot be definitively ruled out.
In 2018, Robert Kluijver, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Ancient Arabia, announced the discovery of a second batch of ancient statues in northwestern Somalia. Kluijver apparently procured the artifacts from a private seller, who had come across the objects while digging on his farm near Berbera. The excavated materials include realistic busts of a white hue, which appear to have been made of limestone; abstract figures of a reddish color, possibly crafted from sandstone; and blocks of stone containing inscriptions. According to Kluijver and specialists who he showed the objects to, the Berbera statues (like those previously found in Hargeisa valley) do not correspond with any of the known styles in ancient Yemeni art, nor do they resemble the figurines produced by the Axumites. He estimates that the artifacts are 2000 years old. This would make them contemporaneous with the ancient “Berber” city-states described in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, including the northwestern port of Malao. The latter market-town was located in the vicinity of present-day Berbera.
Among the recovered artifacts, the limestone busts feature most of the artistic elements first seen in the Gol Waraabe statues: stoic figures with long faces, orthognathous profiles and narrow, moderately projecting noses. At least one of the statues also appears to have had the Osiris or Puntite beard attached, though this Pharaonic appendage has since broken off. Kluijver postulates that this figure may therefore represent a prince. With regard to the inscriptions, they are in an unknown script. Kluijver speculates that the writing may be an early form of Arabic or Phoenician. However, it is more probable that these engravings are yet another instance of the mysterious ancient Somali orthography, which Révoil and others encountered in northern Somalia.
(*N.B. J. H. Patterson (1907) reported the finding of similar Egyptian-related antiquities in Mombasa, a coastal town in Kenya, which, before the arrival of Bantus/Nilotes from the interior, was part of the realm of the Cushitic Azanians (see Who were the ancient Azanians?): “The town of Mombasa[…] is supposed to have been founded about A.D. 1000, but the discovery of ancient Egyptian idols, and of coins of the early Persian and Chinese dynasties, goes to show that it must at different ages have been settled by people of the very earliest civilisations.”)
Considering the importance of the Land of Punt within the ancient Egyptian ethnocultural complex, the territory left behind a substantial legacy. Quite understandably, it has figured prominently in most anthropological and linguistic reconstructions that attempt to better understand the ancestral relations between the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in Northeast Africa. This scholarly tradition is exemplified in the work of Flinders Petrie, leader of the Archaeological Survey of Egypt. The pioneering Egyptologist maintained that the dynastic Egyptians may have originated from an ancient “Hamitic” population centered in the Horn:
The Gala are the remnant of an ancient Hamitic people who appear to have come from North-east Africa, now Somaliland, the region which is most probably to be identified with the land of Punt. It seems, also, that from the same stock which produced the Gala came the dynastic Egyptians, as I have suggested (ANCIENT EGYPT, 1926, p. 10). This is attested, among other things, by the proofs of the Gala origin of the XIIth dynasty (ANCIENT EGYPT, 1924, pp. 38-42).
In addition, Punt has been commemorated in state insignia, literature and philately. The government of Somalia accordingly indicates in its official documentation that:
Somalia was called «Land of Punt» by the Pharaohs, who believed it to be the land of the gods they then used to worship[…]
Ethnically, the Somali people belongs to the Hamitic group, which is further subdivided into:
a) the so-called «Northern Hamites», i.e. the inhabitants of North Africa, namely Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco;
b) the so-called «Eastern Hamites», i.e. the inhabitants of Somalia and Egypt.
Along with the Egyptian government, the colonial authorities in Italian Somaliland also issued stamps in honor of Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt during the New Kingdom. In 1998, an autonomous region in northeastern Somalia, Puntland, was likewise named after the territory.
Perhaps the most salient legacy of Punt is the impact that the ancient land has had on the Eritrean national consciousness. It has sometimes been hypothesized that the seeds of the independence movement in Eritrea date back to the medieval kingdom of Medri Bahri, which was a distinct polity from the Solomonid dynasty based in northern Ethiopia. However, textual evidence suggests that these roots actually trace their origin much earlier, to the Puntite era. Because the king Zoscales held sway over Adulis in Eritrea, which in later centuries became the main port of the Axumite kingdom, certain scholars have conflated him with one Za-Haqale, a ruler of Axum. This association is unlikely, though. As George W. B. Huntingford remarks, the Abyssinian king list where Za-Haqale appears was composed retroactively, during the Middle Ages, and is generally apocryphal (e.g. several of the kings on the list are said to have reigned for over a hundred years, which biologically-speaking is doubtful). Moreover, as already seen, the Periplus only indicates that Zoscales was a paramount chief in Barbaria; not in Axum per se. It also differentiates between Adulis and “the city of the people called Auxumites.” The former was a three-days’ journey from the interior town of Coloe (present-day Qohaito), whereas the latter was a five-days’ journey from there. Epiphanius of Constantia further bears witness to this when he explicitly distinguishes between the Adulites and Axumites. Lionel Casson writes:
There is a third possibility — that Zôskalês was king not of Axum but of an independent realm centered on Adulis and embracing the coastal areas to the north and south. In a paper presented at the Colloque de Strasbourg, 24-27 juin 1987: L’Arabie préislamique, G. Fiaccadori, on the basis of the later history of Adulis and its environs, argued that the area previously must have been independent; it follows that Zôskalês would have been its ruler at the time the Periplus was written. Epiphanius of Constantia (4th century A.D.), in a list of peoples living along the African shore of the Red Sea in the third century A.D., includes Azomitorum cum (A)dulitibus, “the Axumites along with the Adulitans” (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 35, p. 478; cf. Desanges 346); this would indicate not only that Axum and Adulis were separate but that they long remained so.
That Adulis (Aduliton) was, at its inception, not yet under Axumite control is additionally confirmed by Pliny the Elder. The Roman scholar avers that the city was founded by ancient Egyptian deserters, who had moved southwards and established a new settlement thereabouts:
Five days journey from Ptolemais is Aduliton, a city built by the Egyptian deserters.
Zoscales thus governed from a seat at Adulis, which, like the rest of Barbaria, was originally independent from Axum. Correspondingly, the dominant paternal haplogroup among the Tigre, who are the present-day inhabitants of the Adulis vicinity, is the same Egyptian-affiliated E1b1b-V32 clade that is common elsewhere in the former Berber/Puntite area. In fact, due to their Cushitic origins, most Ethiosemitic speakers (especially those inhabiting Eritrea) belong to the E1b1b paternal haplogroup: Tigre (up to 100%), Tigray-Tigrinya (up to 72%), Amhara (45%) (cf. Trombetta et al. (2015), Supplementary Table 7). The Semitic-mediated J lineage is instead more frequent toward the southern interior in Ethiopia, where it climaxes among North Omotic-speaking populations: Shekecho (52%), Kefa (38%), Yem (32%) (Plaster (2011)). This clade reaches its next highest prevalence in Ethiopia’s erstwhile Axum region, in agreement with a Sabaean origin for the separate Axumite empire. Having said that, there is evidence that at least some Pharaonic cultural elements did penetrate the latter kingdom; likely via Adulis or Meroë. The 18th century explorer James Bruce reported having witnessed stelae in Axum that were engraved with figures of the ancient Egyptian deity Horus (cf. van de Walle (1953)). Although these stone slabs unfortunately no longer exist, the revelation that they once did serves to further highlight the bonds between the Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in the Horn and Nile Valley.
The way forward
In conclusion, a holistic examination of the data on Punt emphatically locates it in Northeast Africa. That is, the hieroglyphic, botanical, craniometric, genetic, cultural and geological evidence indicates that the territory was situated in a broad region encompassing northern Somalia, Djibouti, the Eritrea/Ethiopia corridor and northeastern Sudan, with the ancient Egyptians visiting or writing about different parts of this expansive area at different times.
The famous 18th Dynasty Egyptian expedition to Punt organized by the Pharaoh Hatshepsut clearly alighted on the incense-bearing hills of Alula (Acannae) in northeastern Somalia, as this is the only place where the higher grade of frankincense known as ‘ntiyw (Boswellia frereana) grows on “terrace” land formations near the seashore (i.e., these are the “frankincense terraces of Punt” alluded to on the edifices at Deir el-Bahri). Likewise, Pliny the Elder informs us that the Pharaoh Sesostris I (Senusret I) ordered an expedition to the port of Mossylum; we know from the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea that this cinnamon emporium was located in the present-day Bosaso area in northeastern Somalia. Moreover, the Puntite tributaries shown on the Grand Procession at Thebes likely arrived from Eritrea or Ethiopia since, other than Nubia, these are the only locales today where Egyptian-related peoples (viz. Cushitic/Ethiosemitic speakers) and Nilotes like those depicted on the mural can still be found living in close proximity to each other. Eritrea is also the most probable location of Bia-Punt (“Mine(s) of Punt”), the gold-mining district(s) of Punt, for it is the lone territory in Northeast Africa and the Arabian peninsula whose entire geological formation consists of old metamorphic (Precambrian) rocks, which are associated with gold-yielding areas. Additionally, a 26th Dynasty stela recovered at Dafnah, close to the Egyptian Delta, states that “when rain falls on the mountain of Punt, the Nile floods” — a clear allusion to the northern Ethiopian highlands, near the source of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana.
With the above established, archaeological excavations on a larger scale must hereafter be conducted in order to begin to understand ancient Punt’s history. Who, for instance, are the kings and queens that appear to be represented on the Puntite statuettes, which were exhumed at Gol Waraabe and near Berbera? For how long did these nobles reign and under what circumstances? What was their royal order of succession and was it hereditary? Was Adulis their original seat? Or were they alternately, at different times, domiciled in Alula and other cities within the greater Barbaria?
Ransom (1978) indicates that Pharaoh Hatshepsut drew inspiration from a monument that her expedition had observed while in Punt, and used that shrine as a basis for her own temple at Deir el-Bahri:
When Hatshepsut returned, she built a temple patterned after the one she had seen in Punt. She even referred to the construction as building a “Punt”; and the reliefs on one wall were devoted to describing the trips to Punt. The temple was called “The Most Splendid of Splendors” and the remains are still located at Deir el-Bahari near Thebes. Many comments have been made concerning the apparent fact that the architecture does not fit the standard traditional Egyptian style.
According to Trigger et al. (1983), Hatshepsut’s party constructed another temple during their two or three month sojourn in Punt itself, and dedicated that shrine to the queen and the deity Amun. All this considered, more extensive digging in the Puntite area may eventually also yield the remains of monuments that are similar, if not identical, to those that were erected in ancient Egypt.