Thursday, June 3, 2010

Conversation with Anthropologists Dr. Nathaniel J. Dominy and Gillian L. Moritz

Issayas: Can you briefly describe about yourselves.

Nathaniel J Dominy: I'm an Associate Professor in the Departments of Anthropology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, UC-Santa Cruz. I received my BA from Johns Hopkins University in 1998 and PhD from the University of Hong Kong in 2001; from 2002-2004 I was NIH Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago. I'm currently a Fellow of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

(Note: Dr. Dominy was ranked by Popular Science magazine (2009) as one of ten "Brilliant 10" scientists younger than 40 years old. )

Gillian L. Moritz : I'm a PhD student in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, UC-Santa Cruz. I received my BS from Saint Louis University in 2008. I have research interests in stable isotope ecology, sensory systems, and primate behavioral ecology.

Issayas: What is the significance of your findings?

Dr. N. Dominy and Gillian Mortiz: Our preliminary findings narrow down the range of possible geographic locations for Punt. We can rule out some hypothetical locations such as Mozambique and Uganda. And the evidence we have so far is inconsistent with a location in Somalia or Yemen. Instead our results favor a location in Eritrea and eastern Ethiopia. Such results are significant for contributing to our knowledge of the earliest maritime trading networks in antiquity

Q: Why was Punt important for the Ancient Egyptians?

A: Punt was important because it was an emporium for highly valued, exotic goods. For the Ancient Egyptians, the most important commodity of Punt was incense.

Q: The location of Punt had been a mystery for a long time, why was it a mystery?

A: Because the evidence is mixed. The textural evidence differs from the artistic evidence; and, until recently, the archeological evidence was too scarce to be much use. By nature, scholars are creative, argumentative people... so in the past century at least 5 geographic hypotheses have been advanced

Q: Why was Punt called "God's Land?"

A: For the Ancient Egyptians, Punt was a wildly productive region with numerous valuable mineral and biological commodities. Punt was the best emporium on earth.

Q: For a general audience can you briefly describe how a mummified baboon can hold the secret for the location of the land of Punt?

A: The chemical composition of baboon hair reflects the chemical composition of plant water, and plant water reflects the chemical composition of rain water. So we can create a chemical map of eastern Africa based on rainfall patterns. Fortunately, each hypothetical Punt location carries a distinctive rain-driven chemical signature that we can match to living baboons as well as the mummified ones from Ancient Egypt.

Q: Why were baboons important for the Ancient Egyptians and beside baboons, were there any other mummified animals that you wanted to research on?

A: Some baboons were mummified because they were beloved royal pets whereas others were mummified for religious purposes. Mummified short-horned cattle and antelopes might have been interesting to study.

Issayas: Thank you both for your time and comments. (Note: For further information on the subject and their research, please check out the following two links:

To check Dr. Dominy's lab:

Dr. Dominy and Moritz will be presenting their findings to the public at Oakland's Monthly Public Forum on Saturday June 12th 2010. Check out the flier below for details.