Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Search Challenge (3/4/15): Finding and getting to know an obscure island

Caution: While beautiful, this looks nothing like the island we seek in today's Challenge. 

I have to admit that I have an unusual hobby...
I collect islands.  The more obscure, the more remote, the more unusual, the better.  

I've been known to scour maps to find places that might have islands, and after a while, you get to see the patterns of islands--both along the coasts, and in the center of the sea.  

That's how I can to find (but not yet visit, alas!) a rather obscure island in the Arabian Sea that has had a population for at least a million years, and is named not with an Arabic term, but with a name that's Indian in origin.  Can you find it and answer a few questions about this remarkable place? 

This island is known for its unusual plants and animals, many of which are endemic--that is, they occur no place else on earth. 

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? 

Let us know how you found the answers!  My answers will come out on Friday.  

Until then...

Search on! 


  1. Nothing like searching about an island in the Arabian Sea when you dealt with icy conditions driving in to work and looking forward to yet another snowstorm! I'm ready for one more snow day, Anne isn't quite of the same sentiment! Back to searching to start off we did a search using - cave graffiti arabian sea - We did this search because I was sure I had just read about a cave with graffiti discovery so thought that it would bring up the right result but it didn't. So switched search to - Arabian Sea islands - 2nd result was Islands of the Arabian Sea and we thought it would lead us to the answer but after looking at the islands listed it appeared that none of them were the right one; the first result was Arabian Sea article in Wikipedia - - and it became apparent that one of the islands listed on this site was the right one. Socotra. We did a search using Socotra graffiti and go this result - We knew we had the right island so now we did a search for Socotra and the wikipedia article gave us the information we needed to answer question #1:
    Socotra is part of Yemen. In 2004 it became attached to the Hadhramaut Governorate, in 2013, the archipelago became its own governorate. It's coordinates are: 12°30′36″N 53°55′12″E 150 miles east of horn of Africa and 240 miles south of the Arabian Peninsula
    Question #2 used search terms: socotra inscriptions OR graffiti and that led us to - which had a number of pictures as well as a description. We also found this in a book called Foreign Soldiers on Socotra From the book we found this information - "Several years ago a group of Belgian speleologists of the Socotra Karst Project made a spectacular discovery. Deep inside a huge cave on the island Socotra they came across a large number of inscriptions, drawings and archaeological objects. As further investigation showed, they were 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 and languages."
    The 3rd question: we used search terms socotra tank and found information on this site - This is a personal blog which states that the tanks are a vestige of a soviet military presence to help support Yemen's growing communist movement during the 80's. We found many sites which stated they are old Russian tanks this site was only one which gave this much detail. Wikipedia article on Pacific Fleet (Russian) also states there was a Russian presence here as did several other sites.

  2. Good day, Dr. Russell, fellow SearchResearchers


    [Graffiti found island intext:graffiti]
    [Graffiti arabian sea island]
    [ arabian sea island indian name intext:graffiti]
    [cave inscriptions new discoveries arabian sea island]

    Socotra Island?

    [socotra island history]

    Many animals & plants that live today on Socotra are found nowhere else on earth. The very high degree of endemism makes the island an important place in terms of global wildlife conservation.


    Etymology, Wikipedia

    [socotra island military tank]
    [socotra island inscription]

    Deep inside a huge cave on the island Socotra they came across a large number of inscriptions, drawings and archaeological objects

    [hoq cave inscriptions meaning]
    Socotra history. Source one

    Alien looking place

    Socotra in Google Maps

    [corpus of brahmi inscriptions socotra]

    Indians in Socotra

    This corpus of nearly 250 texts and drawings thus constitutes one of the main sources for the investigation of Indian Ocean trade networks in the first centuries of our era.


    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?
    A. Socotra Island. It is part of Yemen.

    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?
    A. Not sure about this. Some place mentions Greek inscriptions and other Corpus of Brahmi inscriptions

    3. Why is there a military tank on the island? Who would bring such a thing there?
    According to source one, the island is located close to oil deposits and had military use by USSR.

  3. About discoveries:

    City from 500 years found. In Spanish

    Also, as you remember, Dr. Russell share with us his playlist on YouTube with some of his conferences.Dr. Russell's Conferences Playlist

    I have another one that YouTube recommended me. Using Google for Search and Research. Dr. Russell, University of California. Enjoy!

  4. Quick search. May be the island sought for this challenge nevertheless a very interesting island.

    Query [discovery cave arabian sea]

    Elephanta Caves > Elephanta Island>

    Elephanta Island Coordinates: 18.96°N 72.935°E [N18 58 0.012 E72 56 8.988]> Gharapuri Island > Country India, History of Elephanta Caves 3:40 start time.

    Query [Gharapuri Island military] Article regarding Navy interest in island may explain tank.

  5. I knew Socotra already. So nothing to contribute in the search process. I have a question though: You wrote " has had a population for at least a million years"

    You do mean thousand don't you ?

    jon tU

  6. may be misguided again - …am pretty sure you are looking for Gilligan's (not Vince, or NM Sky Island) (or Más a Tierra? 63% flora endemic - not Likuri Island), but ran across this in the interim…
    you might keep an eye out for these too - even though they tend to the north [Oman] of Socotra - they fall in the "endemic" category too.
    Megaptera novaeangliae
    IUCN Red List
    you might even run into another dr. there - Oz - dragon's blood; good for what ails you, around the world:
    or Kilham
    Dracaena cinnabari
    T-34/85 using tanks to fight pirates - gotta love it
    on the edge - Andy Sudeten - check photo group
    Petroglyphs in Eriosh
    part 1 part 2 endemic is the key word
    The Island of Bliss

  7. regarding the tanks… noted one small anomaly — this one appears to be Danish… may need to check sources…
    danish - newer - awesome
    everything is…

  8. After reading the challenge, three phrases stood out: "a population for at least a million years", "Arabian Sea" and "old graffiti".

    As for the first one, I had the feeling that modern humans were about a couple of hundred years old but, as I later found out, I was really wrong. The earliest fossil evidence of Homo erectus dates to around 1.9 million years ago, the first species known in the Homo genus is more than 2 million years old, and the first Hominin may be as old as 7 million years.

    As for "Arabian Sea", I had to check exactly where was it. I was wondering if it was another name for the Red Sea. It turns out to be on the other side of the Arabian peninsula, as can be easily seen on Google Maps, or better yet (with approximate limits) through an image search. As soon as I saw that Socotra island was there, I started suspecting this might be it. Other elligible islands were near the Indian subcontinent, where "a name that's Indian in origin" would be unremarkable; near Oman, but all have clearly Arabic names; or the other islets near Socotra.

    As for the third of my triggering phrases, I happened to know the name for "old graffiti", which is "petroglyphs".

    So my first search (after the map) was [ "arabian sea" island petroglyphs ]. There is Socotra, as suspected. A new search [ socotra petroglyphs ] takes me to Petroglyphs in Eriosh - Socotra or Petroglyphs contain clues about Socotra's earliest settlement, for example. If I open the second link, there's an image with inscriptions of what is clearly some kind of writing. In fact, it looks like an alphabet or an abugida to me, not a pictographic writing. Disclaimer: I happen to like writing systems, but I'm no expert whatsoever. Anyway, this sets a new trigger! Writing is a "very recent" thing is terms of human evolution. I had the feeling that the oldest known writing systems would be around 10,000 years old. I checked and apparently I was essentially right: the oldest Neolithic proto-writing dates to the 7th millennium BCE. So I may back to zero again…

  9. Most results for my [ "arabian sea" island petroglyphs ] search show the name Eriosh, although a National Geographic one makes it Iryosh. The Wikipedia article on Socotra makes no mention to petroglyphs. It calls the island Socotra, or Soqotra. The search [ "iryosh" | "eriosh" socotra | soqotra ] gives several interesting results. Here are the first two:
    Petroglyphs in Eriosh - Socotra, again, which I now open, to see that these indeed are not a proto-writing, just feet and isolated symbols.
    The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia, a book by Himanshu Prabha Ray published on the Cambridge University Press, mentioning "the graffiti found on limestone outcrops on the coast of the island at Eriosh." Keep reading: "The graffiti include drawings of outlines of feet, purely geometric shapes and animal and human forms. There are attempts at imitating a script but no identifiable south Arabian inscription could be found." Well, this is neither in "a cave" nor a very recent discovery (but maybe recent enoug to be called "recent"). Searching the same [ "iryosh" | "eriosh" socotra | soqotra ] on Google News, though, gives only an article on Der Spiegel, which mentions the exact same 12 year old news I had read on the NatGeo article: "In 2003, when a road was built through the area Iryosh, at least ten percent of the unique rock carvings found there have been destroyed." (via Google Translate)

    The search [ "iryosh" | "eriosh" socotra | soqotra cave ] led me to search [ socotra | soqotra "hoq" ] on Scholar, which gave me an article from 2002: "Les vestiges antiques de la grotte de Hôq (Suqutra, Yémen) (note d'information)". Happy to be able to read French, I now know that, in the end of 2000 and beginning of 2001, a Belgian team of speleologists led by Peter De Geest has found in a cave at Ḥôq a number of vestiges as evidence of ancient passing visitors. A year later, in January 2002, Christian Robin and Hédi Dridi undertook a summary account of these vestiges: around 50 small texts and drawings on the walls, around 20 cult objects in terracotta, remains of torches and other wooden artifacts, and above all a wooden tablet inscribed with a Palmyrene text.

    The Wikipedia article on the Palmyrene alphabet depicts an image of a tablet whose inscriptions look very much like the ones on the second link I mentioned in the beginning.

    I may have semi-answered questions 1. and 2. but I was left very confused with "one million years old" and a little less with "recently".

  10. Third and last post.

    I had to find out exactly where the Ḥôq cave was. Google Images gave me some maps like this one or this one. On the website where the last one lies (Trip to Socotra with tour extension to Sana'a in Yemen), there’s a nice illustrated account of a trek to the cave. It’s now relatively easy to follow the trek on Google Earth and find some photos labeled “Hoq” and “Halah” (check answer 2, below, for the geocoordinates).

    1. The island is named Socotra, also spelled Soqotra. Its name may also be written Suquṭra, Suquṭrā or Suqutrah when transliterated from Arabic. Names in other languages may vary a little further: Sokotra in German, Socotora in Spanish, Socotorá in Portuguese, Διοσκορίδου / Διοσκουρίδα (Dioskouridou / Dioskourida) in Classical / Modern Greek (sources: the Wikisource transcription of Περίπλους τῆς Ἐρυθράς Θαλάσσης, in EnglishPeriplus of the Erythraean Sea; the Greek Wikipedia article on the island), Dioscoridis (insula) in Latin. It lies 240 km east of the Horn of Africa and 380 km south of the Arabian Peninsula, at about 12.5, 54 (long, lat). Although it’s nearer to Somalia, it belongs to Yemen. The whole archipelago, also named Socotra, belongs to Yemen in fact, although the Westernmost island (Abd al Kuri) lies only 90 km from Africa.
    2. The graffiti (petroglyphs) were found in a cave at Ḥôq. Location of the entrance of the cave labeled “Hoq”: 12.5878, 54.3548. They are composed of several drawings and texts, including a tablet with inscriptions in the Palmyrene alphabet.
    3. (In the meantime, I found out this had already been answered by other researchers, so I didn’t try this one.)

    1. Thanks for your posts, Luis.

      It is very interesting reading the data and information and how you get to that. Petroglyphs is a great key word and the history about human beings is wonderful.

      One thing that I forgot to mention is the title "obscure island". I know that does not mean "dark" that is "oscura" in Spanish.

      [define obscure] Has some definitions I believe this (not important or well known) is the correct one.

      [socotra unknown facts]
      Socotra Project

      Socotra Strange facts: Among others:

      a. In 1507, a fleet commanded by Tristão da Cunha with Afonso de Albuquerque landed an occupying force at the then capital of Suq, their objective was a Portuguese base to stop Arab commerce from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and to liberate the presumed friendly Christians from Islamic rule
      b.There was initially an Oldoway (or Oldowan) culture in Socotra. Oldoway stone tools were found in the area around Hadibo by V.A. Zhukov, a member of the Russian Complex Expedition in 2008.
      c. Socotra is one of the most isolated landforms on Earth of continental origin (i.e. not of volcanic origin)

      Socotra Project
      [Petroglyphs] The first detailed western description was by Wellsted in
      [paintings] interactive map [Hoq cave]

    2. Thanks, Ramón

      It turns out that I had missed (and maybe everyone else along with me) a crucial information that is right on the Wikipedia article on Socotra, as well as on other sources already mentioned, and is indeed the true answer to question #2: the Oldowan culture in Socotra means precisely that hominins were already there a million years ago. Straight from Wikipedia itself: "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 hominins."

      At first, I was really skeptic. How could humans travel on the open sea hundreds of thousands of years before they even invented a system to count? Well, apparently this is a new field of study, with amazing new information about hominins in Crete and other isolated islands. It’s indeed “The Archaeology of Seafaring”.

      For the really curious, here are the main writings on the subject, all in Russian, all of them with many illustrations and viewable online (thus translatable):

      Жуков В. А. Результаты исследований памятников каменного века острова Сокотра (Йемен) в 2008-2012 гг.. — Москва: Триада Лтд, 2014, ISBN 978-5-89282-591-7.

      Zhukov, Valery A. The Results of Research of the Stone Age Sites in the Island of Socotra (Yemen) in 2008-2012. Moscow: Triada Ltd. 2014.

      The book, with over 100 illustrations, is viewable online in pdf format. Follow one of the links on the footer of Книга: Технологии олдована на Сокотре.

      Амирханов, Х.А.; Жуков, В.А.; Наумкин, В.В.; Седов, А.В. "Эпоха олдована открыта на острове Сокотра", Природа 7 (1127), Июль 2009, pp 68-74. ISSN 0032-874X.

      Amirkhanov, Kh. A.; Zhukov, V. A.; Naumkin, V. V.; Sedov, A. V. (2009). Oldovan Age Discovered at Socotra Island. Priroda (Nature) 7 (1127), July 2009.

      Direct pdf download from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

      Амирханов, Х.А. "Открытие Индустрии Олдована На О. Сокотра", in А.П. Деревянко, М.В. Шуньков (Ответственные редакторы) Международньій Симпозиум "Древнейшие Миграции Человека В Евразии" Махачкала, 6 – 12 сентября 2009 года", pp 29-35. Новосибирск: Издательство Института археологии и этнографии СО РАН 2009, ISBN 978-5-7803-0187-5.

      Amirkhanov, Kh. A. "Discovery of Oldowan Industry on Socotra Is.", in Derevianko, A. P. (ed.); Shunkov, M. V. (ed.) The Earliest Human Migrations in Eurasia. Proceedings of the International Symposium (Makhachkala, Dagestan Republic, Russia, September 6–12, 2009), pp 29-35. Novosibirsk: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography Press 2009.

      Viewable online in pdf format @

    3. Luís -- this a GREAT find!

      But tell us .. how did you find the Russian articles? Are you a Russian speaker as well?

    4. I'm not a Russian speaker, although I can read several non-Latin characters, including Russian, which sometimes helps to check if I'm on the right track.

      I merely followed the links on both the English and Russian Wikipedia articles on Socotra. On all of them I had to find the original articles myself (through simple searches with the names or titles in Russian), because the Wikipedia links weren't perfect.

  11. I googled ["arabian sea" islands] which took me to the Wikipedia article on the Arabian sea. That article mentions the Socotra archipelago so it was easy to follow threads leading to details of the island. Took three to five minutes. Interesting place.

  12. This is a great topic. I see now that I knew 'of' Socotra but not of the island itself. And thanks to Luis I now understand the 'million' reference.
    An amazing place.
    Anyone for Sandboarding?

    jon tU

  13. An additional note on the challenge's sentence claiming that Socotra "is named not with an Arabic term, but with a name that's Indian in origin".

    Although the most plausible etymology seems to derive Socotra from a Sanskrit term, it is not totally clear. While I was conducting my searches to answer this challenge, I edited a word and a footnote on the Wikipedia's article on Socotra¹ when I found the best source about the the name origin, a book from the UK's Naval Intelligence entitled Western Arabia and the Red Sea. Here's the most relevant passage from it:

    "One suggested derivation of the name is from the Sanskrit Dvipa Sukhādhāra, 'Isle of the Abode of Bliss', but the theory that this was corrupted into Suq al Katra, 'market of the exudations', is untenable on philological grounds. Socotra has been identified with the Panchaia of Virgil […]. A connection is also suggested with Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri, twin sons of Jupiter and Leda, whence the Roman name Dioscoridis Insula may have arisen. To this day the Arabs call the dragon's blood dam al akhwein, 'the blood of the two brothers'."²

    The "blood of two brothers" has a footnote pointing to a book from 1923, Kings of Arabia. Unfortunately, I couldn't find but a snippet of this book³, where nothing further can be viewed.

    If anyone wants to research further on this, notice that دم الأخوين is nowadays usually translated as "dam al akhawayn". Take also into account that the Naval Intelligence's rendition of where this plant's name may have derived from is not what can be found on the Arabic Wikipedia's article on Socotra. With the help of Google Translate:

    "The name "Blood Brothers" is due to the myth that passed between generations in Yemen , which tells the story of the first drop of blood and bleeding the first between the two brothers: Cain and Abel . According to the legend of Cain and Abel was the first of the island of Socotra housing .. "When they first signed crime murder in history and blood was shed the blood of the two brothers grew tree."

    ⁽¹⁾ The word Dioscurides was wrong, it should be Dioscuri.
    ⁽²⁾ Great Britain. Naval Intelligence Division (2005). "Appendix: Socotra". Western Arabia and the Red Sea. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. p. 611. ISBN 9781136209956.
    ⁽³⁾ Jacob, Harold F[enton] (1923). Kings of Arabia: The Rise and Set of the Turkish Sovranty in the Arabian Peninsula. London : Mills and Boon, ch. XV "The Isle of Sokotra and the Ancient Land of the Hazarmaveth", p. 284. New ed. Reading, UK: Garnet, ISBN 9781859641989.