baudrunner's space: The Land of Punt
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Monday, January 21, 2008

The Land of Punt

The ancient Egyptians from the time of Pharaoh Sahure of the fifth dynasty (2458-2446 BC) constructed large sea going vessels in the Nile Valley, probably in the area around what is now modern Quft. Evidence has been found that ships constructed there were dismantled and carried over the 150 km of desert to the Red Sea coast region of Wadi Gawasis, where lie the archaeological remains of an extensive industrial shipyard, and where they were reassembled and sailed to what was then known as "The Land of God", called Punt. Modern Archeologists have determined with some certainty that Punt was located somewhere in Africa, possibly Sudan and more likely Somalia, or both, because some very important reliefs found in a temple in Deir el-Bahri depict the rewards of one of those trading expeditions, all African in origin. The text accompanying those reliefs describe the expedition to the land of Punt for Queen Hatshepsut in the 18th dynasty (1473-1458 BC). Exotic animals and plants were brought back including lions, baboons and giraffes, and Frankincense and Myrrh trees. The reliefs depict both Africans and Egyptians. The journey of about 2000 km would have required months at sea.

Preserved in the Hermitage collection at St. Petersburg, Russia is a document labelled Papyrus Leningrad 1115: Hieratic and Hieroglyphic Texts. Within the scrolls is the only copy of an ancient (2200 B.C.) story of a shipwrecked sailor who recounts to his master his experience of being the only survivor of a wreck at sea upon his eventual return from what became a great adventure. He had found himself washed up on the shores of what he called the Land of God. The gist of it rivals any of the fantastic accounts by Ezekiel from the Bible, but the translation of it projects a greater clarity so that it is much more compelling. One should remember that Egyptian civilization represented the pinnacle of human achievement for over two thousand years and any land compared to it and that was referred to as the Land of God must most certainly have given reason to make such a substantial impression. It is undeniable that evidence by direct witness of God, whatever God was, over the course of ancient history must needs have had its roots somewhere.

The country that is now Sudan had a very rich ancient history that cannot be overlooked. There is much interplay between the ancient Egyptian civilizations and what was known then as Nubia, which gave rise to the Kush civilization and would also become known as the Kingdom of Meroei. Little is known about this civilization but that it was able to establish a succession of 72 generations of kings and queens who lived in palaces. There was social stratification between nobles and commoners. The Meroian writings have not been translated and nobody knows what their language sounded like. The Kush civilization flourished for over 500 years before the first Egyptian dynasty (3100-2890 BCE).

Egyptian expansion southward began about 2500 B.C. and most of our knowledge of Kush comes from forays into that southern kingdom. This expansion ceased during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (between 2030 BC and 1640 BC) from the beginning of the eleventh dynasty to the end of the fourteenth dynasty. At some point between 800 B.C. and about 300 A.D. the Nubians of Kush would assume rule over all of Nubia as well as Upper and Lower Egypt. Long before that, it is entirely conceivable that access to the Kingdom of Meroei was by way of ocean travel, with landfall at Somalia. In spite of the regularly plied trade route represented by the approximately 1200 km of Nile river connecting Egypt to the area, the hot and arid region known as the Nubian Desert, which receives no rainfall and contains no oases, presented a significant barrier to frequent overland contact between Nubia and Egypt. It is even possible that considerable time passed before the geographical connection was finally realized, if ever.

In the midst of a vast expanse of flatness about 325 km NNE of Khartoum stands a small table-mountain, prominent for its singular intrusion upon the landscape. This is the holy mountain of Jebel Barkal wherein it was thought that Amun, the chief god among all the gods, dwelt. The kings and queens of Kush took their orders from Amun at this site, which is located near the market town of present day Karima, in what was once ancient Napata, founded when the Egyptians conquered northern Nubia in the early Eighteenth Dynasty (ca. 1500 BC). The Egyptians called the rock Dju-wa’ab (“Pure Mountain”) and adopted it for the same purpose as had the Nubians before them. The Egyptians had long held that Karnak at Thebes was the home of Amun but rationalized their acceptance of Jebel Karbal by declaring it to be a distant extension of Karnak. They regarded each site as a manifestation of the other.

While the extent of civilization building in Sudan does not appear to be as great as it was in Egypt, there remains a rich archaeological trove of ruins and vast numbers of pyramids, although not as large as those of their northern neighbours, especially in the area of the city of Meroe which is now a small town around the archaeological remains of hundreds of stone and brick structures. At the height of its glory, it was often described by foreigners as occupying an island, because it is surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Nile. There is much archaeological evidence of contact with Egyptians which predate the dynastic civilizations (before c. 2925 BC). To say that there is Egyptian influence in Sudanese archaeological sites may very well be misleading, as there is every reason to believe that there is Meroian influence in Egyptian archeology. The source of Egyptian wealth and its rise to prominence obviously comes from its trade with its Mediterranean neighbours, which included of course the riches acquired in the expeditions to the land of Punt.

If one follows the progression of migration from the cradle of human evolution then it makes sense that the civilizations of Meroei predate those of ancient Egypt and that the ancient Egyptian engineers and architects merely built on the knowledge learned from their earlier predecessors from the Land of God.

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