Seafaring Expeditions to Punt in the Middle Kingdom

Excavations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis, Egypt


In the 12th Dynasty (ca. 1985-1773 BC) the Egyptian state sent a number of seafaring expeditions to the land of Punt, located somewhere in the southern Red Sea region, in order to bypass control of the upper Nile by the Kerma kingdom. Excavations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis on the Red Sea coast of Egypt from 2001 to 2011 have uncovered evidence of the ancient harbor ( Saww) used for these expeditions, including parts of ancient ships, expedition equipment and food – all transported ca. 150 km across the desert from Qift in Upper Egypt to the harbor. This book summarizes the results of these excavations for the organization of these logistically complex expeditions, and evidence at the harbor for the location of Punt.

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Biographical Note

Kathryn A. Bard (Ph.D. 1987), is Professor of Archaeology and Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University. She has excavated in Egypt and Ethiopia, and her publications include Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008, 2015).

Rodolfo Fattovich† (Ph.D. 1972), was Professor of Ethiopian Archaeology and Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Naples “L’Orientale,” where he taught 1975-2014. He excavated in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, and published over 200 articles and other works.

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1 Egyptian Long-distance Trade, Pharaonic Expeditions and Direct Control of Sources of Raw Materials in Northeast Africa and the Sinai in the Middle Kingdom
 Mining Turquoise and Copper in the Sinai
 The Harbor Site at Ayn Soukhna
 Mining Galena at Gebel Zeit
 Mining Gold and Quarrying Stone in the Wadi Hammamat
 Nubian Resources and Egyptian Occupation
 The Harbor at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis

2 Archaeological Investigations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
 The Pharaonic Harbor at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
 Archaeological Investigations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
 Evidence of Ships and Cargo Boxes
 Sealings, Stelae and Ostraca
 Stone Tools
 Plant and Animal Remains
 Environmental Context of the Harbor Site
 Chronology of the Harbor Site
 Summary: Archaeological and Geological Investigations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
3 Spatial Use of the Mersa/Wadi Gawasis Harbor in the 12th Dynasty
 The Eastern Terrace
 The Harbor
 Central Terrace and Western Terrace Top
 Western Terrace Slope
 Western Terrace Slope, North
 Western Terrace Slope, South
 Caves 2 and 3
 Cave 5
 Cave 7 and the Alcove Shrine
 Harbor Edge
 Production Area
 Ramps (slipways?)
 Western Terrace, Southern Slope
 Beach Area above the Harbor
 Stelae Associated with the Gallery-Caves
 Spatial Organization of the Harbor of Saww Compared to the Harbors at Ayn Soukhna and Wadi El-Jarf
4 Organization of Mersa/Wadi Gawasis Seafaring Expeditions in the 12th Dynasty: The Textual Evidence
 Textual Evidence at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
 Cargo Box Inscriptions
 Sealings and Papyri
 Two Wooden Tags
 Dates of Known Expeditions Based on Textual Evidence
 Translation by Eugene Cruz-Uribe† of the Hieroglyphic Text of the Ankhu Stela (Eastern Jamb, Central Block, and Western Jamb) Found at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis by A.M. Sayed and Recorded in These Articles
5 Organization of Seafaring Expeditions from Mersa/Wadi Gawasis in the 12th Dynasty: Archaeological Evidence at the Harbor
 Archaeological Evidence of Seafaring Expeditions at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
 Ship Technology
 Ship Wood
 Cargo Boxes
 Rope/Ship Rigging
 Linen: Ship Sails, Caulking(?), and Clothing
 Copper Alloy Strips for Ship Timber Fastenings
 Other Expedition Supplies: Clothing, Footwear, Camp Furnishings
 Egyptian Ceramics at the Harbor Site
 Non-Egyptian Ceramics at the Harbor Site
 Shelter for Expedition Members
 Food Supplies and Storage, Food Processing and Baking/Cooking
 Local Production of Stone Tools
 Non-Egyptian Stone Tools at the Harbor Site
Appendix: Bread Baking Experiments
 Ancient Egyptian Bread Making
 Evidence of Bread Making at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
 Experimenting with Middle Kingdom Bread Making

6 Interpreting Ideology at Saww: Ritual Practices, Memorial Shrines, and Commemorative Stelae
 Ceremonial Shrines and Commemorative Stelae at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
 Shrines Constructed along the Red Sea Coast
 Shrines/Monuments on the Terrace Top Overlooking Wadi Gawasis
 The Alcove Shrine along the Western Terrace Slope
 Stelae in Monumental Structures
 Stelae at Mersa Gawasis
 Stelae Placed in Niches Carved in the Western Terrace Wall
 Use of Stelae at Saww
 Mersa/Wadi Gawasis Stelae and the Gods
 Archaeology of Ritual and Religion at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
7 The Land of Punt: A View from Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
 Punt and Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
 The Land of Punt: Egyptian Evidence
 Location of Punt: Natural Resources (Figure 41)
 The Land of Punt: Cultural Evidence (Figure 43)
 Punt and Bia-Punt, and the Evidence from Mersa/Wadi Gawasis: Inscriptions
 Punt and the Evidence from Mersa/WadiGawasis: Paleoethnobotanical Remains and Lithics
 Punt and the Evidence from Mersa/Wadi Gawasis: Exotic Ceramics
 Location of Bia-Punt and Punt: Ceramic Evidence at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis
8 Long-distance Routes Involved in the Punt Expeditions
 Routes from Egypt to Punt/Bia-Punt
 The Levant and Maritime Trade with Punt
 Land Routes from the Nile Valley to the Red Sea Coast
 Sea Route to and from the Southern Red Sea
 Land Routes in Punt/Bia-Punt
 Maritime Expeditions to Punt/Bia-Punt
9 The 12th Dynasty Punt/Bia-Punt Expeditions from Mersa/Wadi Gawasis


Egyptologists, historians and archaeologists working in the Near East, Egypt, and the Horn of Africa. Also scholars of nautical archaeology and nautical technology, and long-distance trade in the ancient world.

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