Dilmun and Punt: Part III

This is the third in a three part series on the subject of Dilmun and Punt: Two Mythical Origins for Two Early Civilizations. In this final segment, I wrap up with discussion of Dilmun and Punt as places of origin for their respective civilizations and offer a bibliography for students or those interested in researching the topic further. I’ll also include links to the other two parts which I’ll add above the folds and at the ends of each part for convenience:

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography


Kramer (1944) concluded that Dilmun isn’t in Bahrain as the majority have suggested, but rather southwestern Iran, based primarily on the information in texts that describes Dilmun at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates. Cornwall (1952) cites at least two others that, likewise, agree that Dilmun is located in Iran, but presents evidence to the contrary in the form of two letters from Nippur that mention Dilmun as being reached by sea. Cornwall previously argued (1946) that the Assyrian use of the term for “in the midst of the sea” (in qabal tam-tim), which referred to islands such as Tyre, Arvad, and Cyprus provided evidence in favor of Bahrain as Dilmun. Another possible location that has had its favor with scholars is the eastern Arabian coast near Dhaharan and Howard-Carter (1987) describes archaeological finds which include steatite vessels with Mesopotamian motifs, un-worked blocks of steatite, lapis, copper ore and other tradable commodities as well as tumuli-tombs.

The tumuli-tombs are, as Lamberg-Karlovsky (1982) suggests, an enigma. Such a large cemetery population created in such a short period of time should have evidence of a large settlement center or centers surrounding it. Yet, as Lamberg-Karlovsky points out, the archaeological surveys of Bahrain do not support such an expectation. He draws a comparison between the Bahrain cemetery complex and that of other cemeteries of antiquity surveyed by modern archaeologists, such as Shahr-i Sokhata. This community spanned 350 acres, which was over twice that of Bahrain, but only had 20,000 burials (p. 46) to Bahrain’s 172,000 – 450,000, depending on if each tumulus contained a single body or an average of three (p. 48). Lamberg-Karlovsky refers to this as “a phenomenon in search of an explanation” and suggests that the island may have held significance in antiquity as a “ceremonial center of pilgrimage,” and, as Dilmun, was a place that interment would provide the eternal life and immortality that was promised Ziusudra. The people buried at the Bahrain complex were not of Bahrain but “from a large geographical area sharing only the fundamental belief in the manner of assuring an after-life.” Such a central place of pilgrimage then provided the basis for the establishment of a trade center (p. 49).

The similarities between Dilmun and Punt are many, but the evidence linking the two directly is thus far missing in the archaeological record. That ancient civilizations of Sumer and Egypt both record in their myths and histories far away lands of sacred and divine significance may be an expectation since both the Egyptians and the Sumerians emerged at a time when the climate was still undergoing changes. The switch from wet to arid conditions following the inundation of the Persian Gulf at around 15,000 BCE finally came at about 4,000 BCE when the sea stopped rising. Egypt, too, experienced similar conditions at around the same time, and early Egyptians eventually abandoned the Nabta Playa perhaps for the Nile Valley.

Both Dilmun and Punt may have begun as points of origins for the Sumerians and Egyptians, respectively. Both of these civilizations have origins that predate writing, so the memory of their ancestral homes must have been orally transmitted until they could be recorded as “the land of the gods” and the “land of the living” –the place “where the sun rises.” If such paradises existed, as two separate places or as one, they may very well have been along coasts or the basin of the Persian Gulf, long since inundated by rising sea levels. The pilgrimages and expeditions to the “lands of the gods” may have been the best attempts that these two societies could offer to reach a now submerged homeland they were forced to abandon several millennia before. Both Dilmun and Punt may have been trade centers (or a single center) that emerged as a result of pilgrimage and geologic circumstance which favored natural harbors and fresh water.

Bibliography and References

Aldred, C. (1987). The Egyptians. London: Thames and Hudson.
Bibby, G. (1969). Looking for Dilmun. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Breasted, J. H. (1906). Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol. I, The First to the Seventeenth Dynasties. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Breasted, J. H. (1906a). Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol. II, The Eighteenth Dynasties. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Brewer, D. J., & Teeter, E. (1999). Egypt and the Egyptians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Caspers, E. C. D., & Govindankutty, A. (1978). R. Thapar’s Dravidian Hypothesis for the Locations of Meluhha, Dilmun and Makan: A Critical Reconsideration. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 21(2), 113-145.
Cornwall, P. (1946). On the Location of Dilmun. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 103, 3-11.
Cornwall, P. (1952). Two Letters from Dilmun. Journal for Cuneiform Studies, 6(4), 137-145.
Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking Books.
Fagan, B. M. (1994). In the Beginning: An Introduction to Archaeology, 8th ed.. New York: Harper Collins.
Gupta, A. K., Anderson, D. M., Pandey, D. N., & Singhvi, A. K. (2006, April). Adaptation and human migration and evidence of agriculture coincident with changes in the Indian summer monsoon during the Holocene. Current Science, 90(8), 1082-1090.
Harvey, S. P. (2003). Interpreting Punt: Geographic, Cultural and Artistic Landscapes. In D. O’Connor & S. Quirke (Eds.), Mysterious Lands: Encounters with Ancient Egypt (pp. 81-91). London: Institute of Archaeology, UCL.
Howard-Carter, T. (1981). The Tangible Evidence for the Earliest Dilmun. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 33(3/4), 210-223.
Howard-Carter, T. (1987). Dilmun: At Sea or Not at Sea?: A Review Article. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 39(1), 54-117.
Ingman, M., Kaessmann, H., Pääbo, S., & Gyllensten, U. (2000, 7 December). Mitochondrial genome variation and the origin of modern humans. Nature, 408, 708-713.
Kramer, S. N. (1944, Dec.). Dilmun, the Land of the Living. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 96, 18-28.
Kramer, S. N. (1947). Gilgamesh and the Land of the Living. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 1(1), 3-46.
Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. (1982). Dilmun: Gateway to Immortality. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 41(1), 45-50.
Langdon, S. H. (1917). Sumerian Liturgical Texts. In The University Museum Publications of the Babylonian Section (Vol. 10 (2)). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, The University Museum.
Mark, S. (1997). From Egypt to Mesopotamia: A Study of Predynastic Trade Routes. London: Chatham Publishing.
Meeks, D. (2003). Locating Punt. In D. O’Connor & S. Quirke (Eds.), Mysterious Lands: Encounters with Ancient Egypt (pp. 53-80). London: Institute of Archaeology, UCL.
Naville, E. (1907). The Origin of Egyptian Civilisation. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 37, 201-214.
Price, T. D., Tiesler, V., & Burton, J. (2006). Early African diaspora in colonial Campeche, Mexico: Strontium Isotopic Evidence. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 130, 485-490.
Pritchard, J., ed. (1958). The Ancient Near East Volume I: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
PSD. (2006). Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project. Retrieved 30042007, from Babylonian Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology: http://psd.museum.upenn.edu/epsd/index.html.
Singer, D. A., Berger, V. I., & Moring, B. C. (2005). Porphyry Copper Deposits of the World: Database, Maps, and Preliminary Analysis (U.S. Geological Survey No. 02-268). http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1060: U.S. Geological Survey.
Smith, W. S. (1958). The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Thesiger, W. P. (1985). The Marsh Arabs. New York: Harper Collins.
Wendorf, F., & Schild, R. (1998). Nabta Playa and its Role in Northeastern African Prehistory. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 17, 97-123.
Wicker, F. (1998). The Road to Punt. The Geographical Journal, 164(2), 155-167.
Woolley, C. L. (1928). The Sumerians. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Part I: Mythical References
Part II: Archaeological and Geological Considerations
Part III: Discussion and Bibliography


2 Responses

  1. Your 2007 article on Dilmun (and Punt) mentioned that Howard-Carter (1981) identified Dilmun with Qurnah in Iraq. Alas, I do not have access to this article. Would you mind providing me a “quotation” of what she actually said from your notes on _why_ Qurnah is to be identified with Dilmun?

    You wrote:
    “…Howard-Carter (1981)…places Dilmun at Qurna, Iraq…”

    My interest in Howard-Carter’s statement is that I too understand that Dilmun is between Sumer and Elam and not at Failaka or Bahrain nor the eastern littoral of Arabia.

    Thankyou in advance for whatever you can share from your notes on Howard-Carter’s identification of Qurna with Dilmun.

  2. The quote comes from her closing paragraph in the 1981 reference listed above where she concludes:

    The name Dilmun late in the third millennium became associated with a trading area in the Gulf identified as the islands of Bahrain and Failaka, together with the adjacent sections of East Arabia. However, because no objects from Mesopotamia found in either Bahrain or Failaka can be dated earlier than 2200 B.C., it is impossible that Dilmun was located there before that time.83 Thus, as I have attempted to demonstrate here, the earliest Dilmun is most likely to have been located in the region of Qurna.

    What she does is build up to this conclusion throughout the entire 14 page paper, so its worth reading the entire thing for context if you’re interested in the subject.

    I’ve sent an email to you, should you not receive it let me know here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: