3,300-Year-Old Baboon Skull Leads Researchers to Ancient Kingdom

The Land of Punt has been a geographic mystery for over 150 years.
Fabienne Lang

The location of a mysterious, and so far mythical, ancient Kingdom may have been discovered thanks to baboon skulls. 

The Land of Punt was a major luxury goods trading spot for Egyptians over 4,000 years ago, but so far archeologists have fallen short of pinpointing its exact location on a map — a debate that's lasted over 150 years

Now, thanks to a Dartmouth College-led study, the fantastical spot may just have been located. The team used a 3,300-year-old Egyptian baboon skull to find Punt's location, which turns out to be near today's Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. 

The team published its findings in eLife on Tuesday.


Thanks to a mummified 3,300-year-old baboon skull, Nathaniel Dominy, a primatologist at Dartmouth College, and his team were able to get a solid idea as to Punt's whereabouts. 

The skull was archived in the British Museum's archives. This was a hamadryas baboon, which was originally discovered in Egypt, where these types of primates were revered even though they were not native to the land.

Dominy's team studied this particular baboon's teeth, more specifically the oxygen and strontium isotope compositions found in their enamel, to find clues of its birthplace. The reason for looking into isotopes is because the region's soil and water have a specific ratio of strontium isotopes, something that gets locked into tooth enamel in the primate's first years of life. 

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3,300-Year-Old Baboon Skull Leads Researchers to Ancient Kingdom
The potential location of Punt and the skull that was studied. Source: Jonathan Chipman, Nathaniel J. Dominy/Dartmouth College

The team's conclusion was that this baboon was not originally from Egypt, rather it had come from East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

This location is where most archeologists believed Punt to be, but had not found enough evidence to prove it. This baboon is the first known Puntite treasure to be discovered, as per Dominy

"Baboons were central to this commerce, so determining the location of Punt is important. For over 150 years, Punt has been a geographic mystery. Our analysis is the first to show how mummified baboons can be used to inform this enduring debate," he said.

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