The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)


Mummified baboons clarify ancient Red Sea trade routes

NATHANIEL J. DOMINY1,3, SALIMA IKRAM2, GILLIAN L. MORITZ3, JOHN N. CHRISTENSEN4, PATRICK V. WHEATLEY4 and JONATHAN W. CHIPMAN5.

1Anthropology, Dartmouth College, 2Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Egyptology, The American University in Cairo, 3Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, 4Center for Isotope Geochemistry, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, 5Department of Geography, Dartmouth College

March 28, 2015 11:00, Grand Ballroom A/B Add to calendar

The tandem origins of maritime trade and international diplomacy have roots in the Red Sea region. Graphic and epigraphic accounts of this trade often provide specific place names, or toponyms, with unambiguous geographic locations. Yet the location of one crucial polity, Punt (or Pwnt), remains uncertain. Punt was a major emporium of gold, electrum, and biological materials such as myrrh, ebony, ivory, short-horned cattle, leopards, and baboons (Papio hamadryas). The importance of these materials is reflected in the 1200-year duration of trade between Ancient Egypt and Punt (Vth-XXth Dynasties; ca. 2458-1163 BC). The recovery of mummified baboons from several New Kingdom tombs, which was a period of thriving trade with Punt, raises the possibility of using stable isotope analysis to source their provenience. Here we report the oxygen and strontium stable isotope composition of two P. hamadryas mummies from XXth Dynasty tombs. We also analyzed the hair and bone of modern baboons in 106 habitats spanning five hypothesized locations of Punt: (1) Eritrea-Ethiopia; (2) Mozambique; (3) Somalia; (4) western Uganda; and, (5) Yemen. Isoscapes based on kriging interpolation of hair keratin δ18O values and bioapatite 86Sr/88Sr ratios were produced and an index of similarity was calculated based on the geometric mean of the two kriged maps. Our results reveal a high likelihood match with eastern Somalia and the Eritrea-Ethiopia corridor, suggesting that this region was the source of Papio hamadryas exported to Ancient Egypt.

Funding was received from the Council for American Overseas Research Centers, the Packard Foundation (Fellowship no. 2007-31754), and the US-Egypt Joint Technology Fund administered through the National Science Foundation (OISE-0923655).