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The Land of Punt was said to be a place of “wonderful things,” and it is recorded in ancient Egyptian history as early as the Fourth Dynasty under the Pharaoh Khufu, with the location celebrated in popular Egyptian literature “Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor” 4,000 years ago. Tomb inscriptions reveal how in the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt Queen Hatshepsut built a Red Sea fleet to facilitate trade between the head of the Gulf of Aqaba and points south as far as Punt to bring mortuary goods to Karnak in exchange for Nubian gold. Hieroglyphs detail much about the royals, inhabitants, and the variety of trees on the island, revealing it as the “Land of the Gods, a region far to the east in the direction of the sunrise, blessed with products for religious purposes,” where traders could return with gold, ivory, ebony, incense, aromatic resins, animal skins, live animals, eye-makeup cosmetics, fragrant woods, and cinnamon.
But, the History Channel’s ‘Egypt’s Unexplained Files’ revealed how experts suspected the Land of Punt to be nothing more than a legend passed down by Egyptians until a huge discovery changed everything.
The 2019 series explained: “In 2004, archaeologists were digging at a site near the small Egyptian harbour of Wadi Gawasis on the Red Sea.
“Kathryn Bard and her team from Boston University made a remarkable discovery – ancient ships.
“These ships were not built for the River Nile, they were made for the open ocean – the first seafaring vessels to ever be uncovered from ancient Egypt.
“Alongside the rigging, they discovered a set of strange boxes and realised the incredible significance of the find.”
Archaeologist Kathryn Bard explained what her team uncovered.
She said: “We found pieces of ancient ships, 26 oil papyrus rope rigging from an ancient ship.
“We excavated 43 discarded cargo boxes, and why do we know they were cargo boxes? Because two of them were inscribed like a package label with ‘the wonderful things of Punt.’
“There is a wonderful fictional tale dating to 1900BC called ‘The Tale of the Shipwreck Sailor’ and it’s about a sailor who is on a seafaring expedition.”
The narrator revealed how the breakthrough made experts revisit hieroglyphs previously ignored.
He added: “This was the first evidence that the mysterious Land of Punt was a real place and that the ancient Egyptians were trading, but where was it?
“For over a century, the Land of Punt is thought to be nothing more than a tall tale, first discovered in a 4,000-year-old papyrus of a sailor telling stories of fabulous creatures and exotic spices.
“Researchers now re-examine an ancient tablet called the Palermo stone and find accounts of voyages that were previously considered fictional.
“It reveals that Punt was the source of many essential goods brought into ancient Egypt, all the evidence points to Punt being a trading partner for ancient Egyptians.”
Then, the series explained a second breakthrough that would lead to the location being pinpointed.
The narrator added: “Teams excavating the ocean-going ships make an incredible breakthrough, they find shards of ancient pots that once contained goods from Punt and discover that the clay comes from the east coast of Africa.
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“But exactly where on the coast remains a mystery to researchers, so they turn to inscriptions at Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, where they find accounts of a voyage to Punt.
“The depictions on the walls have long puzzled visitors because they have a different skin colour to the Egyptians and they find a passage that describes the animals – baboons, dogs and incense trees.
“Baboons are not indigenous to Egypt, so if archaeologists can determine the origin, it could help them pinpoint the location of Punt.
“They track down a baboon mine discovered int the Valley of the Kings and in 2010 a team of scientists tested the baboons using a scientific technique called stable oxygen isotope analysis.”
Ms Bard revealed the location to viewers, adding: “The analysis points to northeast Africa, in what is today Eritrea or Eastern Sudan.”
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