There are always arguments as to where the cradle of civilisation was and often these disputes rest on a difference of opinion as to what constitutes a civilisation. The town of Jericho in modern day Palestine is estimated to have been first built in 9,600 BC, which would make it around 11,600 years old. However, these individual small towns, which also included Catal Huyuk, Argos and Aleppo, all built before 5,000 BC, were not considered to be civilisations. This term usually applies to groups of towns and villages spawning a large area of land. The early civilisations include the Indus Valley Culture (starting 3,300 BC in India), Sumer (starting 4,000 BC in Mesopotamia), the Xia (stating 2,070 BC in China), the Minoans (starting 2,700 BC in Greece and Libya) and Egypt, or Khemet as they called themselves, (starting 3,050 BC).
Sumer is the earliest civilisation as far as we know and later it would be occupied by the Semitic Akkad people and then split into different civilisations, the two greatest being Babylon and Assyria, who would continue the legacy of the Sumerian culture and continue myths such as the Legend of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian king and god-like figure.
When looking at Egypt however, it is often forgotten that there were numerous nations surrounding it and around that area of North-East Africa, just as there was in Mesopotamia.
In fact, the history books often overlook that Egypt was not even the cradle of civilisation in North-East Africa. That belongs to the Land of Punt, from whom the modern region of the Somali Republic “Puntland” is named after. Much of what we know of Punt comes from legends, historical documents and rarely excavated archaeological finds, therefore much of the theories come from trying to cross the three and look for patterns.
The people of Punt were great sailors, running a nation across the Red Sea and their location meant they controlled the only trade route, by water, between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.
This may back up the belief by Egyptologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, who believed that the Phoenicians descending from the People of Punt, who were sailors who controlled the Mediterranean for many years. The People of Punt had a Semitic language like the Phoenicians and since Mesopotamia only became Semitic speaking after the Akkad invasion, Punt may be the oldest and motherland of all Semites. Punt was engaged in trade across the Red Sea and was a major trading partner of Egypt, who would engage of many expeditions to Punt, believed even in the 2nd Millennia BC to be an advanced land by Egyptians.
Punt & Kemet
The Ancient Egyptians referred to Punt as the “The Land of the Gods” or the “Motherland”, suggesting they believed that they descended from Punt, and according to Flinders Petrie, the pattern in where early Egyptian culture developed showed it must have come from around the area believed to be Punt (Covering parts of modern day Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan and Saudi Arabia). In fact, if you look at comparisons between the hairstyles of the Afar people, in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea, to that of Ancient Egyptians there are obvious similarities, and as shown below even the headscarf of the Oromo people who live in modern day Ethiopia and Somalia is similar.
Even when looking at the wall of Pharaoh Seti I’s tomb, it shows the four known races: Themehu (Minoan/Cyrene), Nehesu (Kushite), Aamu (Greek) and finally Reth (Egyptians), you can see that when comparing the complexion of the reth race to the others they are black, but not as dark as the Nehesu, looking far more similar in complexion to the complexion of many Habesha or Somalis.
Punt & Da’amat
Punt also had a huge influence on the Kingdom of Da’amat, possibly a successor to Punt. Believed to be founded in 980 BC, Da’amat was the precursor to the Kingdom of Aksum, then Abyssinia and finally Ethiopia. The Ethiopian monarchy, who were overthrown in a revolution in 1974, claimed to descend from the Royal Family of Da’amat and from the Queen of Sheba, which keeping in line with the Christian and Jewish belief that the Queen had an affair with Solomon (peace be upon him), they believe that the royal family descend from this union. This is also accepted by the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church. But we know that by 400 BC, Punt no longer existed as a unified state and both Da’amat and Sheba, which were both part of Punt were now separate kingdoms.
Therefore, if the king of Da’amat does descend from the “Queen of Sheba”, it suggests that this took place whilst Punt was still in existence as a state and may have just been referred to as ‘Sheba’ to the Children of Isra’il. In fact, Solomon (peace be upon him) lived around the same time as the start of Da’amat, meaning there may be a lot to the story of the Queen of Sheba’s involvement in the break up of Punt and the founding of a new kingdom within it, probably due to a dispute over who the true heir would be. Often in history new nations are built by rebellious or overthrown members of another nations royal family. However, all this is speculation and the truth is lost in history. It is however surprising that tablets found in the Sabaean language of Sheba and possibly all of Punt at one time have been found in a temple in Ethiopia dating back to around 600 BC, showing that the cultural connection continued for centuries after.
The Ethiopian church believes that from the time of Da’amat’s creation, it was a Jewish nation until Christianity arrived. We also know however that by the 7th Century AD that the people of Sheba followed an Abrahamic religion called Sabeanism, which is even mentioned in the Qur’an. Perhaps this was at one time the religion of the last days of Punt and of Da’amat, which was later just equated with Judaism, which was a very similar religion, or that it splintered from the Judaism believed to be brought by Solomon (peace be upon him).
Punt & Nubia
The Kingdom of Kerma, founded around 2,500 BC, in Nubia, had a very distinct culture and ethnicity, when compared to Punt, Egypt, Da’amat and the Kingdom of the Blemmyes. Yet, in 16th Century BC, Egypt occupied Kerma and would continue to control the land for around 5 centuries. During this time, they brought their Punt culture with them, slowly over time becoming the dominant culture within Nubia. In 1070 BC, Nubia gained their independence and formed the Kingdom of Kush, where they mixed their traditional culture and the culture of their former colonisers. They also had their own gods, such as Apedemak, who had a lion’s head and Amesemi.
Punt & The Mediterranean
Many fans of Ancient Greek literature will know the Odyssey and the Iliad, written by Homer around 700 BC, however these books are only two of the eight books that make up the “Epic Cycle” telling the story of the Trojan War. One of the lesser known books which takes place after the Iliad is the Aethiopis. Whereas the outcome final battle in the Iliad, between Achilles and Hector, is already known before due to a prophecy and the fact that Achilles is unmatched in skill by any Greek, the Epic Cycle claim that two even greater warriors than Hector fought one on one with Achilles, the first is Penthesilia, the queen of the Amazons and in the Aethiopis, Memnon who is described as the king of Aethiopia. Memnon is the only person in the Epic Cycle to match Achilles in strength and their battle is thought to have been far more two sided than the one between Achilles and Hector.
Although just a legend, Greek legends are based on real events and the story of Troy is believed to have took place around 1250 BC. Due to the facts that the word Aethiopia in Ancient Greece referred to all land south of Egypt, many historians have claimed that it refers to Kush. If the story and dates are true, then it is impossible for Memnon to have been the king of Kush, as Nubia was part of the Egyptian Empire. Therefore, it would be more likely that it would relate to Punt.
Obviously, we must also consider that the Aethiopis is believed to have been written around 600 BC. This would mean it was written less than a century after the Kushites were actually occupying Kemet and would have been thought of as one of the greatest nations in the World at that time, meaning if the story of Memnon is completely fabricated then he would most likely have been meant to be Kushite.
As mentioned earlier, there is a strong theory that the Phoenicians descended from Punt, whose main four city states were Tyre, Byblos, Sidon (all in modern day Lebanon) and Arwad (in modern day Syria). They would build colonies all over the Mediterranean including the two greatest Berytus (in modern day Turkey) and Carthage (in modern day Tunisia).
Even the trading port of Rhapta, that Roman merchants claimed to visit on the East coast of Africa may have been part of what had earlier been Punt or influenced by Punt.
Many of these examples are attempts to join dots and speculation, although I do believe that the evidence strongly backs it up.
Whilst looking at many of these, Punt maybe forgotten by most people and most of its history lost, but we cannot deny that it has been one of the most influential nations of the human story, rivalling, if not surpassing, the importance of Sumer, Xia or the Indus Valley.
Elements of their legacy continue to this day. Indonesia (the country with the biggest Muslim population in the World), Malaysia and Brunei, were all converted to Islam by traders and whilst many believe these came from India, as it is relatively close, there are other theories. For a start, the Shafi’i school which exists in these three countries is mainly found in East Africa and Yemen. We know that the time when Islam reached these areas that Yemen and the Somali sultanate of Ajuran, were controlling much of the trade across the Indian ocean, keeping in line with the seafaring culture of the people of Punt and therefore it’s most likely that Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei owe their Islam, after Allah, to Somalis and Yemenis.
Even to this day, there are very close bonds between Yemen and Somalia, which continues a story which started over 5,000 years ago.