Marvels of Materials: Authored by Doug Braun, Binghamton University

The Voyage to Punt Relief: Trading in Ancient Egypt

Egyptians considered the Land of Punt to be located at the edge of the known world. This was a place where the Egyptians obtained some of their most luxurious and exotic goods: gold, ivory, resins, ebony, as well as live animals and slaves. The best evidence we have of Egyptian trade with Punt comes from the mortuary temple of the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari who immortalized an Egyptian trade mission to this mysterious land in a set of reliefs now known as the “Expedition to Punt.” The reliefs show animals and plants endemic to modern Somalia and Ethiopia, clues which perhaps allow us to locate Punt on the Horn of Africa, on the Red Sea.
Before establishing direct contact with Punt, Egyptian merchants obtained these valuable goods through a series of middle-men. This indirect trade ended in the Middle Kingdom (2055-1650 BCE), when the Egyptians developed direct contact with Punt to avoid their Nubian rivals to the south. The Egyptians established ports on the Red Sea, such as Saww (modern Mersa Gawasis), in order to accommodate direct shipments from Punt. While the Red Sea is notoriously difficult to navigate, the reward of receiving such valuable, imported materials was seemingly worth the risk.

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