Friday, March 6, 2015

Answer: Finding and getting to know an obscure island

This was fun, eh? 

I'm glad you also enjoy learning about obscure places on the planet, and picking up a few lessons about how to search for information along the way.  

Finding this island was interesting.  But let's revisit our questions...  

1.  Can you find the island?  What's its name, and where exactly is it?  Is it an independent country, or is it part of another country?  
2.  The history of this island is fascinating--at the crossroads of history, but often not really a part of it.  Recently a cave was discovered on this island that has some rather old graffiti. What kind of graffiti is it?  Can you find a picture of the inscriptions?   
3.  Why is there a military tank on the island?  Who would bring such a thing there? 

Finding the island wasn't that hard, but there were a few hiccups along the way.  

My first search was (like many of you): 

     [ cave graffiti Arabian sea island ] 

I chose these terms as they seemed as though they would appear on any description of the island.  Location is always an important term, but not knowing ahead of time anything else about it, I chose to include the terms "cave graffiti" as that seemed pretty unusual--at least unusual enough to let me find the island.  

Sure enough, the results quickly led me to the island of Socotra (after a few moments being diverted by reading about cave paintings recently found in Petra--but that's not an island, so I stopped reading that quickly).  

Then, a quick search for just the island's name: 

     [ Socotra ] 

leads to a wealth of information, with the Wikipedia article being the most prominent. 

Socotra is just off the coast of Yemen and Somalia, solidly in the western Arabian Sea, at 12°30′36″N 53°55′12″E, nearly due west of Goa, south of Oman.  

I first looked it on Google Maps: 

And then zoomed in to take a look in Satellite view

In this view, you can see it's a chain of 4 islands, with the largest, Socotra, being mostly undeveloped, and pretty arid.  

It has fascinating flora (the Dragon's Blood tree, and a traditional frankincense source), and is also home to some remarkable caves.  

To determine the government, I read the entry in the Wikipedia entry which says that Socotra is a governate of Yemen, but then also checked Worldbook site  (just:  [ Socotra ]  to cross-check.  (They tend to be pretty up to date about governmental issues, and they agree.)  

Because I want to be careful about these things, I also checked the Arabic language version of the Wikipedia page (available by clicking on the Arabic language link on the left-hand-side of the Wikipedia page--it looks like this:  العربية

That source (which is not just a copy of the English Wikipedia article) agrees.  It's part of Yemen.  

Finally I tried one last thing, just for completeness. 

I know that this is such an interesting place that a magazine like National Geographic MUST have something about it.  So I tested this out by doing a quick site: search like this:  

     [  Socotra  ]

Which leads to several marvelous articles on the National Geographic site.

And then, just because I was really interested in Socotra, I decide to do a related: search as well, using one of the best articles from National Geographic as my seed text.  

      [ ]

Leads to lots of related things… Really a great way to browse around and find great content.  

Graffiti:  Finding pictures of the Socotran cave art wasn't hard, but I really wanted some good context AND an authoritative source.  

I had noticed that there was a reference to the book "Foreign Sailors on Socotra. The inscriptions and drawings from the cave Hoq" in the references on the Wikipedia article, so I had to search for it. 

A search for the book title: 

     [Foreign Sailors on Socotra. The inscriptions and drawings from the cave ]

Leads to article Socotra Island, which is a great resource for all things academic that have been written about Socotra.  

Reading through those results then led me to the article, Les vestiges antiques de la grotte de Hôq (Suqutra, Yémen).   In: Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 146e année, N. 2, 2002. pp. 409-445

Which has the following images (and much more): 

Images from the article.  

This is a marvelous book, written by archaeologists who have spent considerable time in the Hoq cave on Socotra.  Even if you don't read French, this is well worth looking at.  

Note how the first image (Fig 10) looks much like an Indian script, not an Arabic one.  There are a large number of inscriptions, drawings and archaeological objects. The majority seem to have been left by sailors who visited the island between the 1st c. BC and the 6th c. AD. The majority of the texts are written in the Indian Brahmi script, but there are also inscriptions in South-Arabian, Ethiopian, Greek, Palmyrene, and Bactrian scripts.  

A Tank?  It's really easy to check if there's a tank there.  A simple image search works well: 

     [ Socotra tank ] 

And clicking through on a few of those tells the same story over and over... "geez... we were on Socotra, and look at this tank we found."  

Question is:  How and why is it there? 

One clue I picked up was in the Arabic language Wikipedia article on Socotra:  "...Socotra [was] in the Convenant of the Soviet naval base military..for battleships and Walosatil..working until the unification of Yemen in 1990."  ("Walosatil" is the "Soviet Navy" transliterated.)  

I assume this means that the former Soviet Union found Socotra to be strategically interesting, and so had some kind of deal with them.  That hint suggested I search for: 

     [ Soviet tank Socotra ] 

That worked.  It led to multiple documents, including several first hand reports by war machine fans, who verified that this is a T34/85 (a popular Soviet tank).  

Just to double check that as well, I decided to check on the US "paper of record" with the query: 

     [ Socotra Soviet ] 

By looking at a few of those articles, it's pretty clear that the Soviets had a military relationship with Socotra (although they now seem to have moved away, and few traces of their existance there remains to be seen in Google Earth). 

However, according to one article on, "Soviet military ships preferred rather to anchor off Yemeni Island Socotra’s coast than in the Berbera port [on the Somalia coast]....Socotra had neither a port nor a mooring..."  (It's worth noticing that is a web site run out of Moscow, according to its WHOIS information.)  

The future of Socotra is clearly going to be interesting...  

Search Lessons:  

1.  Check multiple sources. As you can see, Socotra is an "in-between" topic.  There are references to it scattered across multiple sites, in multiple languages.  As Luís mentioned in his comments, many of the best references are in Russian (they were there for quite a while, doing extensive scientific studies).  We have to learn to check multiple kinds of citations! 

2.  Think about checking sources that are on the general topic, but might not show up in the top 10 (or 20) of the SERP.  As you saw, my search in National Geographic reveals a host of related and really interesting articles.  Unfortunately, you have to know to look in order to find them.  Keep in mind that sometimes a well-known site might have to be searched separately.  

3.  Check different kinds of resources.  That's why I looked at Images and Books, as well as the usual web search results.  


Postscript:  About that "at least one million years.." reference at the top of my Challenge

As Luís found out, the Wikipedia article mentions the Oldowan culture in the very beginning, without much fanfare.  But if you follow that link, "The Oldowan, sometimes spelled Olduwan, is the archaeological term used to refer to the earliest stone tool industry in prehistory. Oldowan tools were used during the Lower Paleolithic period, 2.6 million years ago up until 1.7 million years ago, by ancient hominids."  Apparently some Russian archaeologists have found Oldowan tools on Socotra, made from local stones.  So... it's  been occupied for quite some time... 

No comments:

Post a Comment