The Ancient Kingdom of Punt

Petrie, W.M. Flinders. The Making of Egypt, London. New York, Sheldon Press; Macmillan, 1939:

Page 77

“Some of the most obvious public works of the 1st dynasty were the carrying on of earlier undertakings. The great historical maces, and the irrigation works, had been developed under the Scorpion king of the Aunu, and both may have originated much earlier. Many vases and bowls bear his name.”

“Origins in Elam and Punt. The distinctive character of the 1st dynasty, which separates it from all that went before, is the conquest and union of the whole land of Egypt. It became thus subject to the falcon-bearing tribe of Horus, which was the natural enemy of the Aunu, the Set-bearing tribe. This falcon tribe had certainly originated in Elam, as indicated by the hero and lions on the “Araq knife handle“. They went down the Persian Gulf and settled in the “horn of Africa.” There they named the “Land of Punt,” sacred to later Egyptians as the source of the race. The Pun people founded the island fortress of Ha-fun, which commands the whole of that coast, and hence came the Punic or Phoenic peoples of classical history. Those who went up the Red Sea formed the dynastic invaders of Egypt, entering by the Qocier-Koptos road. Others went on to Syria and founded Tyre, Sidon and Aradus, named after their home islands in the Persian Gulf (Strabo, XVI, iii, 4). This migration formed the basis of the great spread of Puni, by the colonies of Carthage around the Mediterranean, and into the Atlantic on both north and south.”–W.M. Flinders Petrie

The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw, p. 317, 2003:

“There is still some debate regarding the precise location of Punt, which was once identified with the region of modern Somalia. A strong argument has now been made for its location in either southern Sudan or the Eritrean region of Ethiopia, where the indigenous plants and animals equate most closely with those depicted in the Egyptian reliefs and paintings.

It used to be assumed (primarily on the basis of the scenes at Deir el-Bahri depicting Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt in the mid-18th Dynasty) that the trading parties travelled by sea from the ports of Quseir or Mersa Gawasis, but it now seems likely that at least some of the Egyptian traders sailed south along the Nile and then took an overland route to Punt, perhaps making contact with the Puntites in the vicinity of Kurgus, at the fifth cataract.

The Deir el-Bahri scenes include depictions of the unusual Puntite settlements, comprising conical reed-built huts set on poles above the ground, and entered via ladders. Among the surrounding vegetation are palms and myrrh trees, some of the latter already in the process of being hacked apart in order to extract the myrrh. The scenes also show myrrh trees being loaded onto the ships so that the Egyptians could produce their own aromatics from them (and it has been argued that this in itself may be an argument for the combined Nile-overland route from Punt to Egypt, given the fact that such plants might well have died during the more difficult voyage northwards along the Red Sea coast). These myrrh trees might even have been replanted in the temple at Deir el-Bahri itself, judging from the surviving traces of tree pits there.”

The oldest known expedition to Punt was organized by Pharaoh Sahure of the 5th dynasty (2458-2446 BC). Also around 1950 BC, in the time of King Mentuhotep III, 11th dynasty (2004-1992 BC), an officer named Hennu and three thousand men from the south transported material for building ships through Wadi Hammamat, and to Punt acquiring a number of exotic products including incense, perfume and gum was brought to Egypt. A very famous expedition was for Queen Hatshepsut in the 18th dynasty (1473-1458 BC). It was formed of five ships, each measuring 70 feet long, and with several sails. These accommodated 210 men, including sailors and 30 rowers, and was led by the Nubian general “Nehsi”. They departed at Quseir on the Red Sea for what was primarily a trading mission, seeking frankincense and myrrh, and fragrant unguents used for cosmetics and in religious ceremonies. However, they also brought back exotic animals and plants, ivory, silver and gold. A report of this voyage is left behind as temple reliefs in Deir el-Bahri, Egypt (see reliefs below). The reliefs shows the departure of the expedition, its arrival at the mysterious land, the landing of the ships with the gifts by the Puntine leader to Hatshepsut, and the preparations for the return voyage. The temple reliefs also showed the features of the Puntine people, who were black Africans, as well as another race much resembling Egyptians. Donkeys were depicted as the method of transporting goods, and white dogs guarding the people’s houses. Birds, monkeys, leopards and hippopotamus are also seen, as well as giraffes which are typical African animals, to live in Punt. The Nubian Nehsi is then shown in front of his tent with a banquet offered to his guests, and observing the gifts presented. 

And then there is the story of The Shipwrecked Sailor, 2200 BC which references Punt. 
[right] chief of Punt “Parakhu”; [left] his wife queen “Aty”
Original copy at the Museum at Cairo (No. 34419)
There is still some debate regarding the precise location of the mythical land of Punt:

Breasted, James Henry, Ph.D., Ancient Records of Egypt, Historical Documents, Vol. II, 1906:

Pages 102-104

“These are undoubtedly the most interesting series of relief’s in Egypt, and form almost our only early source of information for the land of Punt. They are as beautiful in execution as they are important in content. They record an important expedition of the queen thither, which was successfully concluded just before her ninth year.”

“The only earlier evidences of intercourse with Punt are as follows: In the Fourth Dynasty a Puntite negro appears as the slave of one of the sons of King Khufu, in the Fifth, King Sahure sent an expedition thither, and King Isesi sent another, which brought back a dancing dwarf; in the Sixth, an officer of  Pepi II, named Enenkhet, was killed by the Sand-dwellers on the coast, while building a ship for the Punt voyage, and another expedition thither under the the same king was led by assistant treasurer, Thethy; in the Eleventh Dynasty, Henu, chief treasurer of King Senekhkere-Mentuhoptep III, dispatched an expedition to Punt, which he accompanied only to the coast of the Red Sea; in the Twelfth Dynasty, an officer of Amenemhet II, named Khentkhetwer, records his safe return from Punt; and finally there was also an expedition under Sesostris II.”

“The question of the location of Punt is too large for discussion here, but is was certainly in Africa, and probably was the Somali coast.”

“Historically, it is important to note that Thutmose III appears only once in the Punt reliefs, and that in a subordinate position, so that, as far as this source is concerned, the queen is the author of the expedition, which she undertakes in accordance with an oracle of Amon”.

Page 117

Punt under the Queen

“But I will cause thy army to tread them, I have led them on water and on land, to explore the waters of inaccessible channels, and I have reached the Myrrh-terraces. It is a glorious region of God’s-Land; it is indeed my place of delight. I have made it for myself, in order to divert my heart, together with Mut, Hathor, Wereret (Isis), mistress of Punt, the mistress, ‘Great in Sorcery’, mistress of all gods. They took myrrh as they wished, they loaded the vessels to their hearts’ content, with fresh myrrh trees, every good gift of this country, Puntites whom the people know not, Southerns of God’s-Land. I conciliated them by love that they might give to thee praise, because thou art a god, because of thy fame in the countries. I know them, I am their wise lord, I am the begetter, Amon-Re; my daughter, who binds the lords, is the king [Makere] (Hatshepsut). I have begotten her for myself. I am thy father, who sets thy fear among the Nine Bows, while they come in peace to all gods. They have brought all the marvels, every beautiful thing of God’s-Land, for which thy majesty sent them: heaps of gum of myrrh, and enduring trees bearing fresh myrrh, united in the festival-hall, to be seen of the lord of the gods. May thy majesty cause them to grow. My temple, in order to delight my heart among them. My name is before the gods, thy name is before all the living, forever. Heaven and earth are flooded with incense; odors are in the Great House. Mayest thou offer them to me, pure and cleansed, in order to express the ointment for the divine limbs, to offer myrrh, to make ointment, to make festive my statue with necklaces, while I am making libations for thee. My heart is glad because of seeing thee.”–James Henry Breasted
The loading of the ships.
Plate from The Road to Punt, F.D.P. Wicker, The Journal of African History, Vol. 12, No. 1 (1971), 162.
Tapping frankincense tree in Tigray, northern Ethiopia
Frankincense & Myrrh Incense
Indigenous to Somalia, Africa

Frankincense and myrrh were the first tree resins (sap) used by the Ancient Egyptians. They were burned to clear the air in sickrooms and during religious ceremonies to drive away evil spirits. 

Frankincense: Clears the mind, spirit and lungs. Has a calming effect in stressful situations. With its warming and soothing effects on the mind and emotions it is excellent for meditation and prayer.

Myrrh (aka Myrrha): Has a calming effect on the nervous system, quiets the mind and has a soothing grounding quality. Good for people who are afraid to speak for themselves, Myrrh helps build confidence.
Additional Information:

Today, the frankincense-yielding areas in Somalia are still extensive, but the trees are confined to mountain areas, which makes collection difficult; the stands on the coast have long since been destroyed. The trees introduced into Egypt have like wise vanished, and only the bas-reliefs in Thebes are left to tell the story of the wonderland of Punt. — [forestry department]

Punt and Aksum: Egypt and the Horn of Africa, Jacke Phillips,The Journal of African HistoryVo. 38, No. 3 (1997), 423-457
Frankincense and myrrh for sale in a Jerusalem market.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Photos courtesy of FAO.
(above) The frankincense tree grows in arid regions of the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia and Somalia). The tree’s amber-colored resin, collected through an incision in the bark. 

(left) Two Somali young men with a day’s collection. Frankincense is collected in mountain regions. 
Of the thousands of depictions of ancient Egyptian ships, only three illustrate seagoing vessels. One is a relief (see detail and drawing, above) in the mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri of Queen Hatshepsut—who emphasized foreign relations rather than the conquests favored by her male counterparts. This scene shows a fleet of ships that Hatshepsut dispatched to the land of Punt (possibly modern Ethiopia). 

Disassembled ships were hauled over the desert to the Red Sea coast, where the ships were re-assembled and sent south. Upon returning, the ships were again taken apart and hauled back overland to the Nile Valley.

To withstand the beating of the high seas, these ships were outfitted with “hogging trusses,” mighty hawsers strung from bow to stern over a row of stanchions. Think of them as giant suspenders for a ship. They prevented the ship from “hogging,” or bending amidships, when the ship sat on a wave crest with her bow and stern over the wave’s troughs.

The sails are shown both in their raised and furled states. Note the lifts, which are lines running from the yard (the horizontal bar that supports the sail) to the masthead. When the sail was furled by lowering the yard, the lifts became taut, but when the sail was in the raised position, the yard’s lifts hung in arcs—here represented in a stylized form.
The accurate depiction of Red Sea marine animals suggests that the artists based their renderings on empirical observation (rather than on stylized models).

In the accompanying inscription, the vessels are called “Byblos ships.” Thus they were probably merchant vessels normally used on the run from Egypt to Byblos (in modern Lebanon), from where they brought back cedar wood used in building temple.
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