Historical Notes

The Land of Punt update

New research confirms that the ancient Land of Punt was located in Ethiopia. But the HERALD told you that two months ago. Still the new details are fascinating


In March the HERALD ran an article by old Peace Corps friend Jon Kalb suggesting that the Land of Punt, mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts, may well have been Ethiopia. Now an article in the British newspaper The Independent, says that new research on — of all things — baboon mummies long stored in the British Museum also shows that Punt may have been Ethiopia. Several ancient Egyptian texts record trade voyages to the Land of Punt, dating up until the end of the New Kingdom, 3,000 years ago. But scholars did not know where Punt was. Ancient texts offer only vague allusions to its location and no ‘Puntite’ civilization has been discovered. Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen and even Mozambique have all been offered as possible locations.

However, new research claims to prove that it was located in Eritrea/East Ethiopia. Live baboons were among the goods that the Egyptians got from Punt, and a research team have been studying baboon mummies in the British Museum, and by analyzing hairs from these baboons using oxygen isotope analysis, they were able to work out where they originated. Working on a baboon discovered in the Valley of the Kings, the researchers compared the oxygen isotope values in the ancient baboons to those found in their modern day brethren. The isotope values in baboons in Somalia, Yemen and Mozambique did not match, but those in Eritrea and Eastern Ethiopia were closely matched. The team concluded that “Punt is a sort of circumscribed region that includes eastern Ethiopia and all of Eritrea.”

The team also thinks that they may have discovered the location of the harbor that the Egyptians used to export the baboons and other goods back to Egypt. One member of the team, Professor Nathaniel Dominy of The University of California, Santa Cruz,  points to an area just outside the modern city of Massawa: “We have a specimen from that same harbor and that specimen is a very good match to the mummy.”  So Jon Kalb seems to be on the right track.  And you read it first in the HERALD.

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