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Where Was Punt? the Last Word on This Famous Destination in the Chronicles of Ancient Egyptian Travelers

Updated on July 21, 2019
Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Kariuki is a Museum Exhibits Designer and author of several children's and young adults story books. He is also a gifted artist.

Where was Punt: Approaches were both by sea and on land
Where was Punt: Approaches were both by sea and on land | Source

Updated 8th July 2019

Known also as God’s land, the land of Punt supplied Ancient Egypt with Frankinsense, Myrrh and other valuable produce of the land. The island was visited numerous times by the Pharaos of Ancient Egypt. The most famous trip to Punt by a reigning Monarch was made by Queen Hatshepsut. This journey is recorded in magnificent detail in her equally magnificent temple at Deir el Bahari. The fish that swam under the ships in Punt are drawn in details that inform ichthyologists that the artists were making impressions of fish they had actually seen. The houses are shown raised on stilts with palms growing all round.

For many years now Since Sir Flinders Petrie’s studies of the monuments of Egypt in the late 1800’s, a debate has been raging about the location of Punt. Hopefully, this hub will put the matter to rest.

Where are the clues on the location of Punt?

A Pointer to the location of Punt can be gleaned by studying the contents of the gifts from Punt a little more closely. Some of the animals she took home with her were baboons, leopard skins (which Petrie called panther’s skins) and ebony timber. She also took plant seedlings in baskets. Besides, the fish seem to be straight out of a Scientists notebook on the Red Sea. Leopard and Baboons can be found on the East African mainland and also on the Arabian mainland so they do not help much in identifying the location of Punt.

Perhaps the Fish?

What is not in doubt is that Punt was somehere along the Red Sea. Even Petrie noted that the fish are so accurately depicted that the species are easily identified as species from the red sea. What cannot be agreed upon is the location of Punt.

Perhaps by identifying where Frankinsense comes from?

Frankinsense is grown in areas along the coast of Eritrea, Djibuti and Somalia on the East African costline in Somalia and Djibuti. It is also grown on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. This has led to opposing beliefs about the location of Punt. Some swear by the African Coast while others will bet on South Arabia.

Perhaps by identifying where Myrrh comes from?

Myrrh is found in the very locations that Frankinsense is found – In East African, notably Somalia and Djibuti and also on the Arabian subcontinent.

The three neghbouring states of Kush, Punt and Amu
The three neghbouring states of Kush, Punt and Amu | Source

Perhaps the capital City of Punt?

If one was looking for president or governor of any country, shouldn’t it be in the capital city? It makes sense to believe that Hatshepsut’s delegation visited the capital City of Punt and not some obscure location in the periphery of Punt.

The reason why we should concentrate our search for Punt by first identifying the capital is because countries can be large. Imagine a visit to the USA; China or USSR. Clearly a distinguished visitor would have to locate the capital if he or she is to meet any leaders worth their weight in salt.

Suppose the President of modern Egypt visited the USA, and then 1000 years later we try to identify the location of USA. Would we search the West Coast, the East Coast or somewhere in Alaska? My honest opinion is that we would want to know where the seat of Government was, and when we eventually stumble on Washington DC, we begin excavating for evidence. That is exactly what scholars should be doing when looking for Punt – find the capital. The Capital was likely to have also been called Punt and that would not be very strange today. We still have countries that have the same name as their capital cities or almost the same. Below are seven examples:

· Brazil - Brasilia City (almost the same as the country)

· Djibuti - Djibuti City

· Kuwait – Kuwait City

· Mexico – Mexico City

· Monaco – Monaco City

· Panama – Panama City

· San Marino - San Marino City

Was the capital of Punt an island?

It is clear from all the water drawn around the houses that Punt was either an Island or near a lot of water. If we consider that islands are easier to defend, the scales tip in favour of Punt being an island. By drawing the fish under the land, the Egyptian Artist was just being diagramatic according to a fashion in the art of the day. The raised huts give the impression that the island was prone to flooding, or perhaps a rise in tide and hence the defensive architecture. If we are agreed that Punt was an island, this island should be the focus of our search for Punt. From the island, the King of Punt was then able to rule the mainland, and his realm could have extended for miles and miles on all points of the campus. A recent example of ‘ruling the mainland from the safety of an island’ is Zanzibar. At one time, the Sultan of Zanzibar’s dominion included Oman on the Arabian Peninsular, and westwards into the interior of Africa as far as the great lakes. According to Ancient records, punt could be accessed by following the Nile southwards from Egypt.

In the annals of Ancient Egypt, Punt is mentioned alongside Kush, Wawat and Amu. It would appear that the island of Punt was in close proximity to these states. As futher evidence of this proximity to Punt, the produce of these neighbours is somewhat similar to that of Punt. Do we know where ancient Wawat, Cush and Amu are today?

Wawat, I am afraid, has left us no clues. As for Cush, we know that the languages of Ethiopia, Somalia and Northern Kenya are classified as Cushite. Allowing for some outward migration from an epicentre, in all probability, Cush was within the territory that is today known as Ethiopia. As for the state of Amu, the clues are shouting themselves hoarse.

Where is Amu?

Amu must be what is known today as Lamu. Intrestingly, the People of Lamu call themselves “The Amu,” and the Swahil word for Cousin is Binamu from Arabic Bin Amu – son of Amu. Lamu District in Kenya has its headquarters in Lamu island. The rest of the district is spread out to Manda and Pate island and large parts of the mainland. This seems to me to be reflection of what Punt must have looked like – Island capital controlling large swathes of the mainland.

This island of Lamu was likely to have been the seat of government of ancient Amu, a vassal state of ancient Egypt. This idea is reinforced by the Lamu cat, a species of cat that resembles the deified cat of ancient Egypt – Bubastis. Lamu is the only place in the world where this species of cat is still surviving. If we accept that this island was the capital of ancient Amu, then Punt cannot be too far away.

Where is Punt?

Somalia is a country that has been in turmoil since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. Inter clan warfare and successive tyranny by several ragtag militia has seen many of its citizens decamp to more peaceful countries around the world. One section of Somalia has declared independence and renamed itself ‘republic of Puntland.’ It would appear that the Somalis in this state would like to ride on the reputation of ancient Punt, or alternatively, they know something that we don’t. A closer look at Somali pronounciation springs an interesting fact. Letter ‘P’ is not easily pronounced by native Somalis. When they want to say the Swahili word ‘pahali’ (place), it comes out as Bahali. Since the ancient Egyptians rendered the word Punt with a symbol for the phonetic sound for ‘P’, we can assume that that was the original sound. But linguists recognise that shifts do occur in pronounciations, and Punt may very well be Bunt today. Remarkably, the country is known as Burntland by the Somalis. We should therefore be looking for an island called Burnt and not Punt.

The search is over !

In a map of East Africa printed in 1902, we find an island called Maytor Burnt on the Somali coast. The search for Punt is over! Just like the district of Lamu that stretches far into the mainland, it would follow that most of the Puntians lived on the mainland where the wildlife depicted in Hatshepsut’s ships could be found. In any case, chroniclers of ancient Egypt’s history state that it was also possible to go to Punt southwards by following the Nile. Punt was therefore bigger than a just an on the Red Sea. To expect Punt to have been limited to the coast of East Africa, is akin to saying the United states ends in Washington DC.

UNESCO should move quickly to declare Burnt island a World Heritage Site to safeguard it from ad-hoc excavations by quarks and speculators. With Puntland’s relative peace, accredited Archaeologists can then get busy in the island of Maytor Burnt to prove that this was or was not the seat of ancient Punt’s government especially during the reign of Hatshepsut Makare.

My take is that the search for Punt is over.


The Island of Burnt, possibly ancient Punt
The Island of Burnt, possibly ancient Punt | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Emmanuel Kariuki


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