The lost world of Socotra, a remote island with plants up to 20 million years old

The lost world of Socotra, a remote island with plants up to 20 million years old

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The remote island of Socotra could be straight out of a science-fiction movie. Its native flora is so unique and foreign to the eye that it has been described as the most alien looking place on earth. But this small island, nestled in the Indian Ocean around 250 kilometres off the coast of Somalia, is very real, and is home to around 800 rare species of flora and fauna , including varieties of plants that have existed on earth for more than 20 million years.

The unique trees of Socotra island. Photo source .

The long geological isolation of the Socotra archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a spectacular endemic flora. The site is of universal importance and was given UNESCO’s global recognition because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna: 37% of Socotra’s 825 plant species, 90% of its reptile species and 95% of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world.

One of the most striking of Socotra's plants is the dragon's blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari), which is a strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree. Its red sap was thought to be the dragon's blood of the ancients and was once used in medieval magic. The blood-coloured resin was also used as a dye, and today as paint and varnish. Also important in ancient times were Socotra's various endemic aloes, used medicinally, and for cosmetics.

Dried 'dragon blood'. Photo source: Wikimedia

The remote island of Socotra, whose name is thought to come from the Sanskrit for ‘blissful island’ is nestled in the Indian Ocean approximately 250km off the coast of Somalia and is home to around 40,000 inhabitants. The indigenous inhabitants are mainly of Southern Arabian descent and there are also a number of residents of Somali and Indian origin. Several of the female lineages on the island are found nowhere else on earth.

Socotra Village. Photo credit: Jonah M Kessel

Socotri children in a fishing village. Photo credit: Jonah M Kessel

    Socotra island: The Unesco-protected 'Jewel of Arabia' vanishing amid Yemen’s civil war

    Legend has it the otherworldly dragon’s blood tree first grew on the spot where two brothers, Darsa and Samha, fought to the death. In Arabic, it is known as dam al akhawain – “the blood of the two brothers”.

    The unique tree, with its crimson resin and dense crown of prehistoric leaves, is a beloved symbol of the Arabian Sea island of Socotra and its parent country of Yemen.

    But like the ancient Darsa and Samha, Yemen is a country of two halves once again at war with each other. The conflict places Socotra at the centre of a new power struggle between the weakened Yemeni government and the geopolitical ambitions of its ally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    1 /17 Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    Yemen's Socotra Island, the 'Jewel of Arabia'

    The so-called Galapagos of the Indian Ocean – home to 700 endemic species – is the latest acquisition in the UAE’s growing modern empire: other extraterritorial Emirati projects include controversial ventures in Eritrea, Djibouti, Somaliland and the Yemeni islet of Perim.

    Doing our best to avoid the attention of the pro-UAE authorities after two days’ journey on a cement cargo ship from Oman, The Independent is the first news outlet to access the island since Yemen’s war broke out three years ago and the Emirates quietly started taking over.

    We found the UAE has all but annexed this sovereign piece of Yemen, building a military base, setting up communications networks, conducting its own census and inviting Socotra residents to Abu Dhabi by the planeload for free healthcare and special work permits.

    Critics and activists say the UAE seeks to transform the island into a permanent military outpost-cum-holiday resort, and may even be stealing its Unesco-protected plants and animals.

    Requests by The Independent for comment from UAE authorities for this story went unanswered.

    In the past, the UAE government has said it is offering a “helping hand” to parts of impoverished Yemen that need it. The Emirates, part of an Arab coalition helping Yemen’s exiled government fight Houthi rebels, “is neither an occupier nor a troublemaker”, aspiring to “peace and stability in the region,” commentators say.

    “Among the rules of political action is that you should build trust with your allies . and put public interest ahead of personal ones,” UAE foreign minister Anwar Gargash has said of his country’s involvement in Yemen.

    Socotra’s 60,000 inhabitants have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years, almost completely isolated from the outside world.

    Now, civil war, a foreign occupation and the looming spectre of climate change mean that a perfect storm has finally arrived on the island’s shores.

    The intertwined threats are already rapidly affecting the local way of life and the archipelago’s delicate ecosystem.

    Did Flowering Plants Evolve On A Lost Continent, Like Darwin Imagined?

    In his vast correspondence with other contemporary naturalists, Charles Darwin mentions an “abominable mystery”. This mystery was the origin of angiosperms or plants with flowers. The fossil record showed that flowering plants appear relatively suddenly all around the world in the mid-Cretaceous, in contrast with Darwin's belief of a gradual, slow evolution. Darwin explained the apparent sudden evolution using gaps in the fossil record.

    Perhaps, he suggested, the ancestor of modern flowering plants evolved in a remote place, from where the new group quickly spread. Plants with flowers are far more likely to become fertilized, thanks to the help of insects or the wind, can quickly produce seeds and colonize new terrain. So to solve this mystery it was just necessary to find the remote place where the first flowering plants evolved. Darwin proposed an interesting explanation why this place was not found during his lifetime: "I have sometimes fancied that development might have slowly gone for an immense period in some isolated continent or large island, perhaps near the South Pole.”

    Darwin speculated that the first flowers evolved on a continent, from there spread over the globe, meanwhile the continent with the transitional fossils disappeared beneath the sea, far out of reach of any fossil collector or naturalist.

    The lady's-slipper orchid is one of the most beautiful flowering plants in Europe, it grows only on . [+] limestone soils, as the Latin name Cypripedium calceolus suggests.

    Since Darwin, many plant fossils have been found, but the origin of flowering plants still remains elusive. Possible sites of origin of the angiosperms were placed in the Arctic region, Southeast or East Asia, South America and Africa. Some fossil leaves of the Triassic and Jurassic resemble leaves of modern angiosperms but there is no direct evidence to link the fossils to the group. The oldest known fossils of angiosperms, showing some typical parts of a flower, like carpels and stamens (the reproductive organs of a flowering plant) but lacking others, like petals (modified, brightly colored leaves to attract pollinators), were found in China, dating to the early Cretaceous. Archaefructus, discovered in 1998, was a plant growing in wet environments or even water, as the sediments, where the fossil is preserved, and the morphology of the leaves suggest.

    The connection of Archaefructus with water supports also another idea about the evolution of flowering plants. The Cretaceous radiation probably begins somewhere in the wet tropics. The new plants then spread quickly from their place of origin and in just forty million years flowering plants make up already more than seventy-five percent of all known land plants. But according to botanists Archaefructus, despite its primitive traits, cannot be considered the first flowering plant, but just a very basal form, relocating the possible origin of angiosperms outside of China.

    A modern discovery may vindicate Darwin's very speculative idea about the true origin of flowering plants. The continent of Zealandia, located east of modern Australia, disappeared in the sea in the late Cretaceous. If the first flowering plants evolved on the lost continent of Zealandia, this would explain the apparent lack of fossil forms. From Zealandia, maybe with a tropical, wet climate at the time, the new group would quickly spread over Australia and Asia, united at the time in a single landmass, coinciding with the discovery of primitive flowering plants in fossil sites of China and Mongolia. There is also some evidence to support this hypothesis observing the distribution of modern species. Research suggests that Zealandia played an important role to explain the dispersal and evolution of animals, providing a dry land bridge, in the South Pacific. It's likely that also plants used this land bridge.

    This is supported by the distribution of flowering plants still sharing some traits with their primitive ancestor. Many primitive flowering plants are found clustering around the former location of Zealandia, supposed origin of the primitive ancestor. The genus Amborella is found only on the island of New Caledonia, southwest Pacific Ocean. Austrobaileya is found only in the tropical forests of Queensland, Australia. Degeneria, a genus in the family Magnoliaceae, a very old group inside the flowering plants, is only found on Fidschi, a remote island north of New Zealand.

    Bleeding trees

    Another popular export was what is now the flagship species of the island: the dragon’s blood tree. One version of the local legend surrounding its origin says it grew from the blood of two brothers fighting to the death another that it was created from the blood of a dragon that was injured fighting an elephant. It’s an odd and alien-looking tree, with thick, knotted branches sprawling out to form an umbrella-shaped covering. These skyward-facing leaves collect condensation from the mists that roll along the clifftops and high plateaus of the interior. The trunk is thick and gnarled but, when sliced open, it bleeds a resin of deep crimson the blood, perhaps, of the injured dragon.

    Mohammed Abdullah has known the trees his whole life. His extended family, which now numbers nineteen, live in a small community in the center of the island, far from the coast and surrounded by rich, fertile soil. He looks after the nearby dragon’s blood trees, and once or twice a year he harvests their resin.

    It has a variety of uses. Some are medicinal—it’s said that after childbirth, a woman should mix the resin with water and drink it down. It’s also used to paint clay and pottery and as nail varnish and makeup. “The tree is the most important thing on the island,” says Mohammed, indicating a more visceral connection. “It’s a part of us. The shade never goes away all day long, because of the shape.”

    In a sense the tree has shielded the island itself. The vulnerability of species like the dragon’s blood tree has led to high levels of environmental protection on Socotra including, in 2008, full recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, covering 75 percent of the land mass. The Diksam Plateau is one such designated area, sweeping across the center of the island and encompassing deep, winding limestone gorges. From a distance, great forests of dragon’s blood trees stretch toward the granite mountains beyond—but their abundance is misleading.

    “These trees grow so slowly,” says Sami Ali, a tour guide and biodiversity student. “They can reach thousands of years old, but it’s hard to get the young ones to grow.”

    An already fragile ecosystem faces an added problem: invasive species. “Here there are goats everywhere,” says Ali, “and they eat the young trees before they have a chance. Soon the dragon’s blood trees are only going to be where goats can’t reach.”

    Socotra: The Mysterious Island of the Assyrian Church of the East

    Socotra is an island off of the coast of east Africa that is governed by Yemen. For centuries all the inhabitants of the islands of Socotra belonged the Ancient Assyrian Church of the East, which was known as the Nestorian Church. The Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of the East was a missionary church that founded Christian communities in Mongolia, China, and India while Western Europe was sleeping through its ‘Dark Ages.’ The Assyrian Church of the East thrived for centuries in these lands yet most of its churches were eradicated by Islamic warriors, leaving only the churches of India and a community in the original Assyrian homeland of the region of modern Iraq and Iran. One of the longest lasting churches established by Assyrian missionaries, that eventually also fell victim to the Muslim Jihad, was the Nestorian Church of the Island of Socotra which endured for over a thousand years.

    The Assyrian Church of the East and the Island of Socotra

    While Western Christendom was slumbering through the Dark Ages in Europe, the Assyrian Christians of the Ancient Church of the East in Mesopotamia were dutifully carrying out Jesus Christ’s Great Commission to carry his message of hope and love to the distant corners of the world 1 . With a fervent zeal Assyrian missionaries spread the Christian gospel to India, China, Mongolia, and Socotra, an isolated island in the midst of the Indian Ocean 2 .

    The Assyrians speak Syriac, a living form of the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus of

    Nazareth 3 . Their ancestral homeland is northern Iraq and western Iran. The Assyrian Church of the East was founded directly by the Hebrew Christians of Jerusalem and by the evangelists who were from among Christ’s twelve apostles and seventy disciples. According to ancient traditions Thomas and Thaddeus were the first to preach among the Assyrians. Since Jesus, his disciples and the Assyrians were Aramaic speakers Christianity came directly to the Assyrians through its original Semitic source and wasn’t filtered through Greek, Roman or any other pagan culture. The Assyrian church’s primitive Christian origins can be seen in references in the Doctrine of

    Addai and the Hebrew Christian origin of the Peshitta version of the Old Testament 4 . Of the Assyrian Church fathers who were wholly Semitic there are Aphpharat and Ephraim. Later Syriac church fathers were profoundly influenced by the Greek thinking. Sebastian Brock notes in “An Introduction to Syriac Studies”:

    The earliest major [Syriac] authors…are virtually untouched by Greek culture and

    they offer us an essentially Semitic form of Christianity, quite different in many

    respects from the Christianity of the Greek and Latin speaking world of the

    Mediterranean littoral. From the fifth century onwards the Syriac speaking

    churches underwent a rapid hellenization with the result that no subsequent

    writers entirely escaped the influence of Greek culture in some form or another.

    This specifically Semitic aspect of the earliest Syriac literature has been curiously

    neglected, despite its potential interest for the study of primitive Christianity as a

    whole 5 .

    The Assyrian Christians of the Church of the East came to be called Nestorian after Nestorius, a Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 until 432, whose Christological doctrine and method of Biblical interpretation was accepted by the Assyrians in that they mirrored those of their own ancient traditions. Nestorian Christians are not and never were heretics. The Assyrian Church of the East holds fast to the tenants of the Nicene Creed, and affirms the core doctrines of the Virgin Birth, the Holy Trinity, the Deity of Christ (meaning that Christ is God the Son as well as being the eternal Son of God), the literal and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead as well as the other basic doctrines held by all Christians whether they be Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant 6 .

    Assyrians were active in world trade centered along the Silk Road (the Silk Road is the name of the caravan routes frequented by merchants who traded between Europe, China and India). Assyrian merchants and missionaries planted churches in Central Asia, China and India. The Assyrian Church of the East is one of the most dynamic missionary churches in all of Christian history. Ian Gilman and Hans-Joachim give the founding of the church in Socotra as an example of the global expansiveness of the Church of the East. In Christians in Asia Before 1500 they state that:

    A further example of Nestorian expansion is provided by the church on the island of Socotra, which dates from the 6th century and was to continue its life down until destruction by the Muslims after the period which concerns us here [1500]. The traveler Cosmas Indicopleustes found Christians there in the 6th century and we have records of consecrations of bishops for the island under the Patriarch Enush in 880 and Sabr-ishu III (d. AD 1072). Marco Polo (d. 1324) reported a bishop there who owed allegiance not to the pope in Rome but to a Patriarch at Baghdad, and the Bishop of Socotra was present at the consecration of Yaballah III as Patriarch in AD 1282 7 .

    Socotra serves as an example of the zeal and rigid determination of the Assyrian Christians to take the gospel of Jesus Christ even to the most desolate and inaccessible regions on earth.

    St. Thomas on Socotra

    Saint Thomas is held by tradition to be the founder of the churches in Assyria, Chaldea, Babylonia, India and Socotra. On his way to India Thomas was shipwrecked on the isle of Socotra and he used the wreckage of the ship to build a church. According to the ancient account of the missionary endeavors of Saint Thomas entitled The Acts of Thomas he did visit a mysterious island while in route to India and preformed miraculous feats there 8 . The Socotran Christians were called Thomas Christians and belonged to the Assyrian “Nestorian” Church of the East. (The Syriac Christians of India also call themselves Thomas Christians.) St. Francis Xavier notes that the people of Socotra, with whom he visited during a sojourn on their island, “… are devotees of the Apostle St. Thomas and claim to be descendants of the Christians he converted in that part of the world 9 .” Several archeologists, anthropologists and historians working on the Island of Socotra have noted the ministry of St. Thomas among the Socotrans. G. W. B. Huntingford notes that

    The inhabitants seem always to have been a mixed people. Some of them at one period were Christians, converted it was said by St. Thomas in AD 52 while on his way to India. Abu Zaid Hassan, an Arab geographer of the 10th century, said that in his time most of the inhabitants of Socotra were Christian… but by the beginning of the 16th century Christianity had almost disappeared. leaving little trace but stone crosses at which Alvares said the people worshipped…However, a group of people was found here by St. Francis Xavier in 1542, claiming to be descended from the converts made by St. Thomas… 10

    Travelers Accounts of the Assyrian Christian community of Socotra

    Socotra is a land of myths and legends. The Phoenicians believed Socotra to be the abode of the Phoenix, a mythical bird believed by the ancients to fly from Socotra to Heliopolis in Egypt once every 500 years to rejuvenate itself in a sacred flame. Herodotus, Pliny the Elder and Diodorus of Sicily mention Socotra in regards to this legend. The description of Socotra by Diodorus of Sicily however, does contain authentic details about the island 11 . Later Arabs believed the island to be the dwelling place of the rukh, or roc, the mythological gigantic bird that has a prominent place in the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor 12 . The Pharaohs of Egypt also sent expeditions to Socotra to acquire Myrrh which was then as costly as gold 13 .

    In ancient times Indians traveled to Socotra. They gave the island its name which is Sanskrit for “Island abode of Bliss”. According to Shipbuilding and Navigation in Ancient India

    In those days India had colonies, in Cambodia (Kumbuja in Sanskrit) in Sumatra, in Borneo, Socotra (Sukhadhara) and even in Japan. Indian traders had established settlements in Southern China, in the Malayan peninsula, in Arabia, in Egypt, in Persia, etc. Through the Persians and Arabs, India had cultivated trade relations with the Roman Empire 14 .

    These trade relations enabled St. Thomas to evangelize Socotra and India.

    Alexander the Great is believed to have conquered the island of Socotra in order to have the aloe for his army. A Greek presence continued up past the time Socotra was converted to Christianity. Socotra is rich in myrrh and aloes. Ancient peoples recognized medicinal value of aloe. Aloe and Myrrh were even used to anoint the body of Jesus the Christ upon his removal from the cross. Socotra continues to supply the world with aloe as it did in ancient times 15 .

    The Periplyus of the Erythraean Sea is an ancient Greek mariners manual from around the year 60 AD. This book shows that Greek sailors knew the island and it is thus entirely possible that Thomas could have made his journey there. The missionary endeavor of St. Thomas to Socotra and India is believed to have taken place in 52 AD. The author of The Periplyus of the Erythraean Sea describes Socotra by saying,

    There is an island…it is called Dioscorida [meaning Socotra], and it is very large but desert and marshy…the inhabitants are few and they live on the coast towards the north, which from this side faces the continent. There are foreigners, a mixture of Arabs, and Indians, and Greeks, who have emigrated to carry on trade there 16 .

    An important early Christian leader who was himself most likely a Socotran was Theophilus. Unfortunately he was also a heretic. He is also known as Theophilus the Arian and Theophilus the Indian. (Until the voyage of Columbus the Indies from the European viewpoint included East Africa and the islands in the Indian Ocean as well as India proper.) Theophilus was an adherent of Arianism, a heresy that was widespread through the church for centuries. Arius, the originator of this pernicious fallacy, denied the Holy Trinity and the Deity of Christ. Samuel Hugh Moffett describes the ministry of Theophilus and his missionary journeys that took place in 354AD. He states

    Theophilus “the Indian” a native of the islands in the Arabian or Indian Ocean …was held in Rome as a hostage, converted to Christianity, and was sent by emperor Constantinius on an embassy that included visit to Arabia, to his homeland in the islands, and to “other parts of India 17 .”

    Cosmas the Indian Voyager, called Indicopluestes, was a Nestorian Christian from Alexandria in Egypt. He was a merchant and traveled widely. He wrote a twelve volume work recounting his travels entitled Tropographis Indica Christiania , which translated is A Christian Topography of the Whole World. He wrote this work in 536 AD recollecting his journeys he made throughout the Indian Ocean, in Ethiopia and the coasts of India in 522 AD. He describes the Assyrian Church firmly established and growing throughout the world saying

    We found the church…very widely diffused, and the whole world filled with the doctrine of Christ, which is being day by day propagated, and the gospel preached over the whole earth. This I have seen with my own eyes in many places and have heard narrated by others. I, as a witness of the truth can relate… 18

    Cosmas goes on to mention the Assyrian churches in Sri Lanka and Kerela, India. He then continues, “…and in the place called Kalliana (Quilan) there is a bishop usually ordained in Persia, as well as in the isle of Dioscoris (Socotra) in the same Indian Sea…You will find priests ordained in Persia sent there, there are also a number of Christians 19 .” So by the early 500s we have an account by a member of the Assyrian Church establishing the fact that by that time ‘Nestorian’ Christianity had been firmly established on the Island of Socotra. The famous Venetian traveler Marco Polo (1254-1324) accuses the Socotrans of having the supernatural ability to control the weather and to cause shipwrecks. He wrote of Socotra saying:

    The inhabitants [of Socotra] are baptized Christians and have and archbishop…I should explain that the archbishop of Socotra has nothing to do with the Pope at Rome, but is subject to an archbishop who lives at Baghdad [meaning the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East]. The archbishop of Baghdad sends out the archbishop of this island and he also sends out many others to different parts of the world, just as the Pope does…I give you my word that the Christians of this island are the most expert enchanters in the world. It is true that the archbishop does not approve of these enchantments and rebukes them for the practice. But this has no effect, because they say that their forefathers did these things of old and they are resolved to go on doing them. And the archbishop cannot override their resolve 20 .

    Arab accounts also describe witchcraft and sorcery as being prevalent among the Socotrans.

    Afonso the Great, (also known as Afonso de Albuquerque) who lived from 1453 until 1515, was a Portuguese admiral and founder of the Portuguese Empire in the East. He captured Socotra from the Muslims and established Portuguese rule over the island. The memory of the Portuguese lives on among the Socotrans who have many legends about their Portuguese era. The language of Portugal also influenced the vocabulary of the Socotran language. The Portuguese saw themselves as liberators of the Christian Socotrans from Islamic persecution. The Socotrans came to look upon the Portuguese as foreign oppressors so much that they came to prefer Arab rule to Portuguese rule, especially after the Portuguese attempted to force them to adopt European Roman Catholic practices. An early Portuguese report on the island of Socotra was provided for Dom Manuel I, King of Portugal in 1505 by Diego Fernandes Pereira. Near the same time Martin Fernandez de Figuera of Salamanca wrote of the Socotran Christians with whom he dwelt for four months. Nicolau de Orta Rebelo noted that all the Socotran men were named Thomas and all of the women were named Mary. In 1527 Martin Alfonso de Melo remarked that there were many Christians on Socotra 21 . In 1541 Portuguese Admiral Dom Joao de Castro stated that, “the Socotrans revere the Gospel. They say that they were introduced to it by the blessed apostle St. Thomas through whom they proclaim our religion. There are many churches all over the island, each crowned with the cross of the Most High 22 .”

    Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552) is one of the most important early Roman Catholic missionaries to the Far East. In regards to Socotra and it’s Christians he said

    The natives esteem themselves to be Christians and are very proud of it. They can neither read or write, possess no books nor other sources of information, and are very ignorant. But they have churches, crosses, and ritual lamps, and in each of village there is a caciz, who corresponds to a priest among us. Having no bells, they summon the people to services with wooden clapers, such as we have during Lent 23 .

    Other travelers contradict the statement of St. Francis and noted that the Socotrans did possess books written in Syriac characters. St. Francis and other Catholic travelers probably exaggerated the level of ignorance of the Socotrans. This is probably an exaggeration due to the contempt with which the Catholics until very recently have held members of the Assyrian Church who they viewed as ‘vile and pestilent Nestorian heretics’. It should be borne in mind that Francis Xavier himself recommended that the Holy Office of the Inquisition should be activated in India to deal with the Assyrian Christians there.

    An example of the hatred of the Roman Catholic towards the Assyrian Christians is their forced conversion of members of the Church of the East in India and in Socotra. Francis M. Rogers notes in The Quest for Eastern Christians that

    In the mid-1500s an adaptation of a letter from King Joao III to Pope Paul III was published in both Italian and French editions. It summarizes the conversions affected under Portuguese auspices from Socotra to Moluccas, reports military reverses in Ethiopia, and mentions St. Francis Xavier. It speaks of the “conversion” of the St. Thomas Christians in a manner suggesting the same classification as Saracens [Muslims] and pagans 24 .

    Arabs also wrote important accounts of the Nestorian Christians of the Isle of Socotra. In 1488-1489 Ibn Magdid commented that Socotra was a Christian island ruled over by a woman. Al-Masudi, the famous Arabic geographer, wrote an account of the island. He died in 956 AD. Al-Hamdani, another Arabic geographer, wrote of Socotra and its Christians. He mentions monks being on the island. Al-Hammadi died in 945 AD.25 Yaqut writing in the thirteenth century described the inhabitants as “Christian Arabs”.

    Yaqut al-Hammadi also notes that some of the Nestorian Christians of Socotra were Greeks and says,

    The Masih, son of Maryam [Jesus Christ] appeared — peace be upon him – and the Greeks who stayed there [on the Isle of Socotra] adopted Christianity and remain Christians until the present time. Allah knows that there is no other place in the Universe except Socotra Island where there would live a population of Greeks which would retain its lineage without having anybody else mix with it 26 .

    Ibn Battutah (1304-1369), the famous Arabian traveler, also traveled by the Island of Socotra 27 . Later England attempted to dominate Socotra because of its strategic location. In 1886 Socotra became a British Protectorate. During de-colonization Socotra was given to Yemen. In Socotra, the Island of Dreams Ibrahim Al-Ashwami and Abdul Wali Al-Muthabi state that Socotra’s “strategic importance…rises from the fact that its location is in the mid-center of all Arab and African coasts, related to Asia and Africa continents. 28 ”

    The Land That Time Forgot

    Socotra is also called Asqo’tra, Sou’qatra and Soqotra. Other spellings include Suqutra and Socotora. The names derives from the Sanskrit word Sukhadara or Dripa Sukhadara which means ‘Island abode of Bliss’ The Ancient Greeks called it Dioskourdiou or Discordia. Socotra is also called the Isle of Mists and the Island of the Dragon’s Blood Tree. The Socotra Archipelago consists of Socotra and three outlying islands, Abd al-Kuri, Samha and Darsa. Socotra is the home of rare liquid products frankincense, black oblillnum and Dragons Blood. It exports aloes and herbal remedies. Socotra is the largest island in the Arab World. The deep waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean surround the island yet the waters immediately around the island are shallow and infested with sharks and pirates.

    Socotra is an extremely isolated island due to the monsoon winds that make it impossible to reach for half of the year. Due to its isolation unique plant life lives there, life-forms survive there that became extinct elsewhere in the world tens of thousands of years ago. The best article on the island of Socotra is Soqotras Misty Future written by Diccon Alexander and Anthony Miller and published in the July 1995 edition of New Scientist. This article is available on the Internet on the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh Soqotra page. This site features an awesome virtual reality tour of the island through several panoramic photographs that gives a 360-degree view in which you can zoom in and out of with close-ups.29 Dr. Robert Mill of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburg Scotland wrote me and said, “The small Indian Ocean island of Socotra contains one of the richest and best preserved dry tropical floras in the world, over one third of the plant species and endemic and it is internationally recognized as a centre of exceptional biodiversity. 31 “The United Nations declared in Soqotra: Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Soqotra Island: Present and Future, “The Island of Socotra is undoubtedly a most precious natural asset. It has been nominated as a ‘World Heritage Site’ and as a ‘Man and Biosphere Reserve’. It has a rich and unique biodiversity that is unrivalled in the Indian Ocean and in the Arabian Region 31 “.

    Socotra is often compared to the Galapagos, the South American island whose unique wild life provoked Charles Darwin to invent the theory of evolution. The World Wildlife Federation declared, “The Socotran Archipelago has such a unique assemblage of animal and plant species that it has been described as an Arabian Eden. The islands are known for their plant diversity, including the dragon’s blood tree and a variety of succulents…While currently relatively pristine, the ecoregion has had along history of human occupation and over 50 endemic plants are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Socotran Archipelago remains vulnerable to increased human activity and tourist and industrial development.󈭴 Strange animals have also been found on Socotra.

    The Socotra Kurst Project has reported the recent discovery of more unusual life forms discovered by speleologists, including that of long tailed bats 33 . Socotra’s plants, which are living relics of the prehistoric world, are often described as ‘most bizarre’ as ‘weird vegetation’ and ‘grotesque’. There are also many examples of gigantism in these relics of ancient flora. The most important odd plants are the Dragon’s Blood Tree, also known as the ‘inside out umbrella tree’, and the grotesque bottle shaped Adenium tree. Socotra was a forgotten island until Quenton Cronk’s botanic expedition in 1985. Diccon Alexander noted that, “Off the Horn of Africa lies the forgotten island of Socotra, for centuries home to some of the worlds most bizarre plants…Relics of ancient species are so abundant that the island looks like most people’s idea of a prehistoric world 34 ” or a strange other-worldly landscape created by a more imaginative writer of science fiction. He further states that, “Until at least 10 million years ago Socotra was part of the African mainland and before that a part of the African-Arabian tectonic plate. Today the ancestors of plants from these ancient landscapes and still be found growing on the island. 36 ”

    The island is approximately 72 miles long and 22 miles across from north to south, and it lies over 500 miles south-east of Aden and about 300 miles from Mukalla, port of the Hadramawt. The island of Socotra lies in the Indian Ocean near the ancient sea routes from the Red Sea to India and East Africa. Travelers and scholars have long considered it to have great archeological potential. Socotra has also been a source of interests to linguists in addition there is a wealth of material for specialists in the fields of botany and ornithology 36 .

    Flora of the Arabian Peninsula and Socotra Volume I by A. G. Miller and T. A.Cope relates that

    The Socotra archipelago consists of four islands-Socotra, ‘abd al Kuri, Semhah and Darsa-situated in the northern part of the Indian Ocean due east of Somalia… the climate of Socotra is influenced by both SW and NE monsoons. The SW monsoon blows from April until October bringing hot, dry winds which are generally desiccating but bring a little orographic rain to the mountains. Most precipitation occurs from November to March during this period the SW winds are replaced by much lighter rains from the NE… Rainfall is very sporadic and in some years the costal areas receive none. Average measurements for the plain are around 150 mm and the mountains probably receive around 500 mm. Most rain falls in winter. The mountains are frequently shrouded in clouds and heavy dews are common 37 .

    Topographically the island can be divided into 3 main zones the coastal plains, the limestone plateau and the Hagghier Mountains.

    According to AYTTA (The Association of Yemen Tourism and Travel Agencies) the best period to visit the island is from 15 October until 15 May. The winds sweep some parts of the island in the remaining period of the year 38 . According to Island of the Dragon’s Blood

    It was a rugged country, with an overall limestone plateau averaging 1,500 feet in height, through which projected a central mountain range, the Haggier Massif, reaching nearly 5,000 feet. These mountains constituted one of the oldest land structures in the world and had been an ark of refuge for many strange and primitive forms of plants and lower animal life, found nowhere else. Frankincense, myrrh, dragon’s blood, cucumber and pomegranate trees grew there, …People lived on this island and they were of two sorts: on the coast were a mixed lot of Arabs and Africans in the mountains lived the true Sokotri, who were aboriginals isolated on the island “from time immemorial”, living in caves, talking a unique language that nobody knew, subsisting on dates and milk 39 .

    The Socotra Tribesmen

    Socotrans speak a Semitic language distinct from Arabic. It is called Soqotri. The Enchanted Island: Socotra Reveals Its Secrets it is mentioned that,

    The traditions of the Socotran natives differ from those of other Yemenis in that they are influenced by all of the nearby major regions: the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa and India. The Socotran people have their own language, which is a holdover from the ancient Himyaritic language. They share this language or variations of it with the people of Al-Mahara in Yemen and Dhofar in Oman 40 .

    The Socotrans are impoverished and isolated. The population of Socotra is estimated to between 20,000 and 80,000. Many of the mountain dwellers are troglodytes, living in caves. The coastal people are fisherman and pearl divers and are of African origin. They live in shacks made from palm leaves and tree limbs. Arab nomads dwell in the wadis. The Bedouin are shepherds and subsistence farmers 41 . There is racial diversity on the island. White Arabs live in the mountains and some Africans live on the coast. Tribal culture there is so strong that the people cannot even chop down a tree without consulting the tribal counsel. Socotra is isolated and inaccessible. Its people manage to eke out a wretched and poverty stricken existence. Socotrans are largely cut off from the rest of the world for five month of the year. Indian Ocean monsoon storms whip up violent seas making it impossible for the island to be resupplied by sea. (Socotra is usually reached by Dhow, an Arab sailing boat, from the coast of Yemen) 42 . The winds also make it dangerous to be reached by plane or helicopter.

    The Assyrian Christians of Socotra

    What were the practices of the Socotran members of the Church of the East? They recited the Syriac liturgy and memorized it even though they didn’t understand the language. According to Douglas Botting

    On this outpost of the Arab world a race of people impervious to the great tide of Islam, who had retained some remnants of the Christian faith for nearly a thousand years after the birth of Mohamet. But such remnants had been strangely corrupted. As one Portuguese ship’s writer had noted in the sixteenth century: “The Socotrans call themselves Christians but lack instruction and baptism, so that they have nothing but the name of Christians…” At this time the Socotrans still revered the cross, placing it on altars and hanging it round their necks. Every village had a minister who repeated prayers antiphonetically in a forgotten tounge [probably Edessan Syriac], scattering incense. Words like “Alleluia” often occurred and instead of ringing bells they shook wooden rattles. A century later a Carmelite friar, P. Vincenzo, observed the last vestiges of Christianity on Socotra. The people, though they still professed Christianity, had no real knowledge and practiced a strange jumble of rites-they sacrificed to the moon, abominated wine and pork, circumcised, regarded the Cross with ignorant reverence and carried it before them in processions. They assembled in their low, dark, dirty churches three times a day and three time a night. They burned incense, and anointed their altars with butter. Placing a Cross and candle on top of them. Witchcraft was practiced, and the people often committed suicide in old age. Each family had a cave in which it buried its dead. They were all strictly monogamous. 43

    The continued rejection of the Islamic practice of polygamy is probably the only Christian custom preserved by the Socotrans 44 .

    Are there old books and are archeological remains pertaining to the Assyrian Church in Socotra? There are remains of churches and shrines and there are several inscriptions bearing the cross. Christian burial was practiced by the Socotrans. In Socotra: island of Tranquility the discovery of Christian tombs is described in the following manner.

    Caves in the limestone rocks have been filled with human bones from which the flesh had previously decayed. These caves were then walled up and left as charnel houses, after the fashion still observed in the Eastern Christian Church. Among the bones they found carved wooden objects that looked as if they had originally served as crosses to mark the tombs… 45

    Most Christian remains have been destroyed by Muslem extremists. Several books deal with archeological excavations that have been undertaken on the island.

    Douglas Botting in Island of the Dragon’s Blood

    We found traces of this past Christianity on the island. Not in the beliefs of the people but in the enigmatic stone remains dotted all over the island…There was nothing about these buildings which indicated that they were specifically Christian but they were much larger and more elaborate than the houses of the present-day Bedouin, and it seemed reasonable that they were the work of a more energetic and technically advanced people-in fact, the Christian ancestors of the came-dwellers of today…Here they sat chanting in choir alternately the uncomprehended language [Syriac], repeating three times a day the strange warped vestiges of the faith their ancestors had been taught by Thomas 46 .

    Islamic fanaticism brought to the people of Socotra, as it has in many other places, a great decline. Many structures bearing Christian symbolism have been defaced. Ruins that have been confirmed to be the remains of churches have been excavated by archeologists. Several inscriptions of crosses have been preserved. D. Brian Doe in Socotra: An Archeological Reconnaissance in 1967 reports excavations of churches and notes that

    My aim was to visit Kalleesa, a name which here indicates a strong link (ekklesia, Greek) with a Christian Church, in this case presumably a very early one. However, if Kalleesa was a village, the name could have also been vested in the district. One might wonder is the families in this area represent the descendents of those people…who, under the guidance of St. Thomas are thought to have built the first Church in Socotra… 47

    Researchers have tried to search out ancient Syriac manuscripts on Socotra. In Socotra: Island of Tranquility Brian Doe describes his failed attempt.

    At as late a period as when the Portuguese visited Socotra they found on it books, written in the Chaldean character [the East Syrian Syriac script]. I hoped consequently to be able to procure some manuscripts or books that might serve to throw light on the history of the island but in answer to repeated inquiries regarding such, I was assured that some, which they acknowledge to have possessed they left in their houses when they fled into the hills, and that the Wahhabees, during their visit, destroyed or carried them off. The former is most probable, as these sectaries, in the genuine spirit of Omar’s precepts, value only one book. 48

    The Demise of the Church of the East on Socotra

    According to Bethany world Prayer Center

    The Socotrans remained faithful to their [Christian] beliefs as late as 1542, when St. Francis [Xavier] visited them on his way to India. Sadly, by 1680, Christianity was virtually extinct, due to oppression by the Arabs and the neglect of the Nestorian patriarchs to support the mission on the island. 49

    The patriarchs are not entirely to blame due to the crisis and persecution they were facing at the time they were unable to support the mission. The Socotrans continued devotion to their Christian identity while they had neither ecclesiastical leaders nor religious education is to be admired. Despite the isolation and loss of contact with it’s mother church, the Socotrans remained committed to their Christian identity. It took an armed attack by Muslim fanatics from Arabia to deal the deathblow the Nestorian Church on Socotra.

    According to Vitaly V. Naumkin in The Island of the Pheonix: An Ethnographic Study of the People of Socotra.

    In the Mid-17th century there were still traces of Christianity on Socotra,

    according to Vincenzo , and Carmelite monk and Samuel Purchas…In 1800 the

    Wahhibis landed on Socotra, destroying the cemetery and the churches in the

    coastal area around Hadiba and establishing control over the Muslem ritual by the

    inhabitants 50 .

    Douglas Botting in Island of the Dragon’s Blood states that, “The Bedouin [of Socotra] are well aware that their ancestors were Christian There is no indication of Christian practices at the present day. 51 ”

    The non-Arab Semitic island of Socotra is now ruled over by the Arabs of Yemen. In historical overviews of the island the disingenuous Yemenis omit any reference to the existence of Christianity on the island. Typically the Arabs not only discount the Socotrans former tenacious Christian faith but also their current distinct ethnic identity. The language is misleadingly described as “Arabian”, (it may be ‘Arabian’ but it is not directly related to Arabic). Yemen Exploration Tours states that, “The inhabitants of the mountains…are nomads and descendants of an old South Arabian tribe speaking still the old Arabian dialect Soqotri related to the Mahri dialect. 52 ” These languages are not dialects of Arabic as implied but distinct Semitic languages. The Island is described as the largest island in the Arab world it would be more accurate to describe it as the largest non-Arabic island in the Arab world. Assyrians, Berbers and Kurds receive similar treatment in other parts of the Arab world. These ethnic minorities suffer their culture denigrated, their historical and cultural contributions ignored and their very existence denied. The cultures of the indigenous peoples are under serious threat in these lands. Also Christian artifacts that are discovered may be vandalized by Muslim fanatics. We should remember the fate of pre-Islamic antiquities in Afghanistan under the Taliban. This is why we must document our history so we can at least preserve records of it before Islamic extremists attempt to erase the memories. The Assyrians should begin a museum that documents the achievements of the Church of the East to serve this purpose.

    Currently Yemen is very welcoming to all scientists interested in doing field work on Socotra and may also welcome an Assyrian expedition, but the expedition if it ever sets off should be discreet and thorough in its documentation 53 . The prospects of finding additional remains are slim. Botting states

    In 1800 the fanatical and puritanical south Arabian tribe, the Wahabees, attacked Socotra, destroyed tombs, churches, and graveyards on the coast around Hadibo, and terrified the Bedouin into formally accepting the Mohammedan faith 54 .

    After his expedition in 1880 Professor Balfour declared

    What has been done by this expedition is but a fragment of what is there to be accomplished…It happens that on this island within but three weeks’ journey from England, there dwells a people whose origin is lost in myth, and of whose speech the true relations are undetermined, who according to received reports, having obtained some degree of civilization and embraced Christianity have gone back from their advance position to the lower state in which we now find them and thus present to us a feature of great interest to the history of mankind. There is now on Socotra alone a wealth of material for explanation and investigation, which would amply reward the work of another expedition 55 .

    Though technological advances have reduced travel time drastically, his words hold true today, much work remains to be done on Socotra. Recently environmentalists, spelunkers, biologist, biochemists, algologists, ichthyologists, ethnologists, botanists, ornithologists, philologists and speleologists have descended on Socotra for various scientific pursuits. Assyrians should also support research to find and preserve relics from the past of the Church of the East.

    Special Thanks

    Special thanks to Johanna Sidey of the World conservation Monitoring Center, Dr. Robert A. Mill of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland and Bette Craig of the Inter-library Loan Office of Sam Houston State University.

    1 Matthew 28:19 “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and

    of the Holy Spirit , teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded thee.” See also Mark 16:15-

    18 and Acts of the Apostles1:8. Scripture taken from The Holy Bible: 21st Century King James Version (KJV21)

    Copyright 1994 Duel Enterprises, Inc. Gary , SD 57237, and used by permission.

    2 Concerning the missionary accomplishments of the Assyrian Church see Marin Palmer The Jesus Sutras:

    Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (Ballatine Wellspring, New York 2001) This is a good

    collection of Assyrian Christian texts discovered in China and Central Asia. It is useful but I take offense at Mr.

    Palmer calling the holy Church of the East “Taoist Christian”. Mr. Palmer attempts to take a radical departure from

    orthodoxy based on his misinterpretations of these texts. I will explore the ‘Jesus Sutras’ and the Assyrian Church in

    China and its contributions in an upcoming paper.

    3 Assyrians speak Neo-Aramaic today which is sometimes called Syriac yet distinct from Classical Syriac of Edessa.

    According to S. G. Pothan in The Syrian Christians “Aramaic was the language of Jesus Christ and his apostles.

    Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic and became the language of the mother church of Persia.” S. G. Pothan The Syrian

    Christians of Kerala (Asia Publishing Company, New York 1963) p. 36 For more information about the Syriac

    Christian heritage see: W. Stewart McCullough A Short History of Syriac Christianity to the Rise of Islam (Scholars

    Press, Chiro, CA 1982) and also Sebastian P. Brock and David G. K. Taylor The Hidden Pearl: The Syrian

    Orthodox Church and its Ancient Aramaic Heritage Volume I: the Ancient Aramaic Heritage Volume II: The Heirs

    of the Ancient Aramaic Heritage Volume III At the Turn of the Third Millennium , the Syrian Orthodox Witness

    (Trans World film, Italia, 2001) accompanied with 3 videotapes.

    4 For the issues concerning the origin of the Assyrian Church and of the Peshitta Bible see Han J.W. Drijvers “Facts

    and Problems in Early Syriac Speaking Christianity” East of Antioch: Studies in Early Syriac Christianity (Variorum

    Reprints, London 1984) p. 157-175 M. P. Weitzman The Syriac Version of the Old Testament: An Introduction

    (Cambridge University Press) George Howard trans. The Teaching of Addai (Scholars Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan,

    5 Sebastian Brock “Introduction to Syriac Studies” J. H. Eaton, Ed. Horizons in Semitic Studies: Articles For the

    Student (University of Birmingham 1980) p.4-5.

    6 The Roman Catholic pope cleared the Assyrian Church of the heresy libel in “Common Christological Declaration

    Between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East” in November 11, 1994 presented in The

    Messenger: The Official Publication of the Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East Issue Number 11 March 31,

    1. However, the theology of the Assyrian Church was declared orthodox by the western church several times in

    the past. According to Samuel Hugh Moffett this occurred during the times of Acacius (485-496 AD), Mar Aba

    (early 6th century), Yeshuyab (early 7th century) and during Rabban Sauma the Mongol’s delegation to Europe in

    1. It should also be noted that Nestorius declared the Tomeof Pope Leo as an expression of his own position.

    Samuel Hugh Moffett A History of Christianity in Asia Volume I: Beginnings to 1500 (Harper San Francisco 1992)

    7 Ian Gillman and Hans-Joachim Klimkeit Christians in Asia before 1500 (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor,

    8 According to The Acts of Thomas, after embarking by ship to India Thomas’ boat stops at Andrapolis, presumably

    an island in route. J. K. Elliot The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in

    English Translation (Claredon Press, Oxford 1993) p. 488-454.

    9 S. G. Pothan The Syrian Christians of Kerala (Asia Publishing Company, New York 1963) p.29.

    10 G. W. B. Huntingform ed. Trans. The Periplus of the Eryphraean Sea (The Hakluyt Society, London, 1980) p.103.

    11 Vialy V. Naumkin Island of the Pheonix: An Ethnographic Study of the People of Socotra (Ithaca Press 1993) p.

    12 Tim Severin “In the Wake of Sinbad” National Geographic July 1982 p.2-40.

    13 Charles K. Moser “The Isle of Frankincense” National Geographic March 1918 p. 267-278.

    14 Shipbuilding and Navigation in Ancient India .

    15 History of Aloe Vera .

    16 Brian Doe Socotra: Island of Tranquillity (Immel Publishing Limited, London, 1992) p.9.

    17 Samuel Hugh Moffett A History of Christianity in Asia (Harper San Francisco 1992) p.267.

    18 S. G. Pothan The Syrian Christians of Kerala (Asia Publishing Company, New York 1963) p.27.

    20 Ronald Latham Trans. The Travels of Marco Polo (Penguin books, London, 1958) p. 296-298.

    21 Vialy V. Naumkin Island of the Pheonix: An Ethnographic Study of the People of Socotra (Ithaca Press 1993)

    22 Vialy V. Naumkin Island of the Pheonix: An Ethnographic Study of the People of Socotra (Ithaca Press 1993)

    23 S. G. Pothan The Syrian Christians of Kerala (Asia Publishing Company, New York 1963) p.29.

    24 Francis M. Rogers The Quest for Eastern Christians: Travels and Rumor in the Age of Discovery (University of

    Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press, 1962) p.169.

    25 Brian Doe Socotra: Island of Tranquillity (Immel Publishing Limited, 1992) p.136-144.

    26 Brian Doe Socotra: Island of Tranquillity (Immel Publishing Limited) 1992) p. 137.

    27 Thomas J. Abercrombie “Ibn Battuta: Prince of Travelers” National Geographic December 1991 P. 5-49.

    28 Ibraham Al-Ashmawi & Abdul Wali Al-Muthadi “Socotra: Island of Dreams” Tiaz Magazine No. 796. March

    19,1998 Concerning the British presence on

    Socotra, John Farrar served in the British Royal Air Force and Army Expedition on the island during 1964-1965 and

    has created a wonderful website dedicated to Socotra and its people at .

    29 Diccon Alexander and Anthony Miller “Socotra’s Misty Future” New Scientist Vol. 147 No. 1988 29 July 1995 p.

    32-35 Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh The Flora of the Arabian Peninsula and

    30 Personal correspondence of the author dated 2/23/1996.

    31 From book description. Soqotra: Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Soqotra Island: Present and

    Future (United Nations, New York 1998).

    32 Socotra Island xeric shrublands (AT1318)

    33 Socotran Karst Project: Flemish Caving Expeditions For other interesting creatures see Simon Aspinall

    International Research on Socotran Cormorants

    34 Diccon Alexander and Anthony Miller “Socotra’s Misty Future” New Scientist Vol. 147 No. 1988 29 July 1995 p.

    36 Brian Doe Socotra: Island of Tranquillity (Immel Publishing Limited, London, 1992) p.5.

    37 A. G. Miller and T. A.Cope Flora of the Arabian Peninsula and Socotra Volume I (Edinburg University Press in

    association with Royal Botanic Gardin Edinburg, Royal Botnaic Gardens, Kew, 1996) p.7,11.

    38 AYTTA .

    39 Douglas Botting Island of the Dragon’s Blood (Hodder and Stoughton, London 1958) p.22-23.

    40 The Enchanted Island: Socotra Reveals Its Secrets .

    41 Yemen Exploration tours: Socotra .

    42 Marion Kaplan “Twilight of the Arab Dhow” National Geographic September 1974 p. 330-351.

    43 Douglas Botting Island of the Dragon’s Blood (Hodder and Stoughton, London 1958) p. 215.

    44 M. A. AL-Dailami “Socotra: the Forgotten Diamond of Yemen” World Magazine No. 609 12 Feb 1998

    45 Brian Doe Socotra: Island of Tranquillity (Immel Publishing Limited, London, 1992) p.33.

    46 Douglas Botting Island of the Dragon’s Blood (Hodder and Stoughton, London 1958) p. 216.

    47 D. Brian Doe Socotra: An Archeological Reconnaissance in 1967 (Field Research Projects, Miami, Florida 1970)

    48 Brian Doe Socotra: Island of Tranquillity (Immel Publishing Limited, London, 1992) p.214.

    49 “The Socotran of Yemen” .

    50 Vialy V. Naumkin Island of the Pheonix: An Ethnographic Study of the People of Socotra (Ithaca Press 1993)

    Samuel Purchas in 1625 wrote Purchas, His Pilgrims, a collection of travel narratives. In it he mentions William

    Rubrucks travels among the Nestorians in Mongolia as well as the accounts of the Nestorians of Socotra..

    51 Douglas Botting Island of the Dragon’s Blood (Hodder and Stoughton, London 1958) p. 214.

    52 Yemen Exploration Tours Also in a recent article on Socotra Saleh

    Abdulbaqi seems incredulous towards the possibility that Christianity was ever known on the island and cynically

    makes a true statement, “This issue still requires more studies”. The condescending attitude towards non-Arabs also

    appears in his comment, “Despite the spread of education in the island, Socotri unique language is still most used by

    its inhabitants.” Using a non-Arabic language such as Soqotri or Assyrian must mean one is uneducated! This shows

    that in some Arab countries ‘education’ is used as a tool of cultural genocide. Saleh Abdulhaqi “Socotra: The Island

    of Wonders” Yemen Times 5 November 2001, Vol. XI .

    53 Yemen does have many ancient ruins, unique architecture, and a past of glorious civilizations, such as that of the

    Biblical Queen of Sheba. The Yemenites are a proud and hospitable people who are eager to share their fascinating

    heritage with the rest of the world. On the other hand there are serious terrorist threats in Yemen and practically the

    entire population is addicted to a drug called qat. A bulk of the population spends most of the day procuring large

    quantities of qat which they chew until they reach the drug-induced stupor. Nevertheless, a visit to Yemen would be

    a rewarding experience to a cautious and intrepid traveler.

    54 Douglas Botting Island of the Dragon’s Blood (Hodder and Stoughton, London 1958)p.125 Unfortunately the

    Wahibis are still around and are particularly active in Saudi Arabia. They are behind many of the acts of religious

    terror carried out in the name of Islam in many parts of the world today from the Philippines to the United States.

    55 Douglas Botting Island of the Dragon’s Blood (Hodder and Stoughton, London 1958) p.23.


    Throughout time, the Hawaiian Islands formed linearly from northwest to the southeast. A study was conducted to determine the approximate ages of the Hawaiian Islands using K–Ar dating of the oldest found igneous rocks from each island. Kauai was determined to be about 5.1 million years old, Oahu about 3.7 million years old and the youngest island of Hawaii about 0.43 million years old. [1] By determining the maximum age of the islands, inferences could be made about the maximum possible age of organisms inhabiting the island. The newly formed islands were able to accommodate growing populations, while the new environments were causing high rates of new adaptations.

    Human contact, first by Polynesians and later by Europeans, has had a significant impact. Both the Polynesians and Europeans cleared native forests and introduced non-indigenous species for agriculture (or by accident), driving many endemic species to extinction. Fossil finds in caves, lava tubes, and sand dunes have revealed an avifauna that once had a native eagle, [2] two raven-size crows, several bird-eating owls, and giant ducks known as moa-nalos. Around 861 species of plants have been introduced to the islands by humans since its discovery by Polynesian settlers, including crops such as taro and breadfruit. [3]

    Today, many of the remaining endemic species of plants and animals in the Hawaiian Islands are considered endangered, and some critically so. Plant species are particularly at risk: out of a total of 2,690 plant species, 946 are non-indigenous with 800 of the native species listed as endangered. [4]

    Interesting facts about Yemen

    Yemen is an Arab country in Western Asia, occupying South Arabia, the southern end of the Arabian

    The official name of the country is the Republic of Yemen.

    It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea to the south, and Oman to the east-northeast.

    The official language is Arabic.

    It is the 49th largest country in the world by area with 527,970 square kilometers (203,850 square miles).

    Sana’a is the capital and largest city Yemen. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. At an elevation of 2,300 metres (7,500 ft), it is also one of the highest capital cities in the world.

    The terrain of Yemen is characterized by a narrow coastal plain backed by flat-topped hills and rugged mountains. An upland desert plain in the center slopes into the desert interior of the Arabian Peninsula.

    Jabal an-Nabi Shu’ayb at 3,666 meters (12,028 feet) above sea level is the highest mountain in Yemen and the highest mountain in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Yemen has 1,906 kilometers (1,184 miles) of coastline along the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea.

    Yemen’s territory includes more than 200 islands.

    Isolated Socotra, 355 kilometers (220 miles) from mainland Yemen, is home to a panoply of strange plants and animals uniquely adapted to the hot, harsh, windswept island. The landscape of remote Socotra Island looks as if it comes from a sci-fi film but in fact has evolved to look so other-worldy as the ‘lost world’ island has been separated from mainland Africa for between six and seven million years. The island was recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008.

    Yemen has 4 UNESCO world heritage sites.

    Surrounded by a fortified wall, the 16th-century city of Shibam is one of the oldest and best examples of urban planning based on the principle of vertical construction. Its impressive tower-like structures rise out of the cliff and have given the city the nickname of ‘the Manhattan of the desert’. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.

    Situated in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,300 meters, the Old City of Sana’a has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years. In the 7th and 8th centuries the city became a major centre for the propagation of Islam. This religious and political heritage can be seen in the 103 mosques, 14 hammams and over 6,000 houses, all built before the 11th century. Sana’a’s many-storeyed tower-houses built of rammed earth (pisé) add to the beauty of the site.

    Zabid’s domestic and military architecture and its urban plan make it an outstanding archaeological and historical site. Besides being the capital of Yemen from the 13th to the 15th century, the city played an important role in the Arab and Muslim world for many centuries because of its Islamic university. Zabid has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993

    Yemen was the home of the Sabaeans (biblical Sheba), a trading state that flourished for over a thousand years and probably also included parts of modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea.

    In 275 AD, the region came under the rule of the later Jewish-influenced Himyarite Kingdom. Christianity arrived in the fourth century, whereas Judaism and local paganism were already established. Islam spread quickly in the seventh century and Yemenite troops were crucial in the expansion of the early Islamic conquests.

    The Ottoman Turks nominally occupied the area from 1538 to the decline of their empire in 1918.

    The country was divided between the Ottoman and British empires in the early twentieth century.

    The northern portion of Yemen was ruled by imams until a pro-Egyptian military coup took place in 1962. The junta proclaimed the Yemen Arab Republic, and after a civil war in which Egypt’s Nasser and the USSR supported the revolutionaries and King Saud of Saudi Arabia and King Hussein of Jordan supported the royalists, the royalists were finally defeated in mid-1969.

    Ideological differences provoked conflicts between pro-Soviet South Yemen and pro-Western North Yemen in 1972 and 1979.

    The Republic of Yemen was established on May 22, 1990, when pro-Western Yemen and the Marxist Yemen Arab Republic merged after 300 years of separation to form the new nation.

    Yemen’s principal natural resources are oil and natural gas as well as agriculturally productive land in the west. Other natural resources include fish and seafood, rock salt, marble, and minor deposits of coal, gold, lead, nickel, and copper.

    Saltah is considered the national dish of Yemen, and widely eaten in northern parts of the country. It is mainly served for lunch. The base is a brown meat stew called maraq, a dollop of fenugreek froth, and sahawiq or sahowqa (a mixture of chillies, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs ground into a salsa).

    Qat is the most popular drug in Yemen, with effects similar to amphetamine. Chewing starts after lunch, with men and women in separate rooms. Leaves are plucked and gently crushed between the teeth until a wad builds up in the cheek. It’s a social activity and chewers’ conversation often centres on politics. Qat is a stimulant, so chewers without religious scruples often wash it down with whisky in order to sleep.

    Yemen is the poorest nation in the middle east.

    More children are born in Yemen than in any other middle eastern country yearly.

    Alcohol is banned in Yemen due to strict Islamic religious policies.

    Yemen is an ultraconservative Muslim country. Homosexual behavior is punishable by death, and it is forbidden to take pictures of women.

    Yemen has been in a state of political crisis since 2011, starting with street protests against poverty, unemployment, corruption, and president Saleh’s plan to amend Yemen’s constitution and eliminate the presidential term limit, in effect making him president for life.

    President Saleh stepped down and the powers of the presidency were transferred to Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was formally elected president on 21 February 2012 in a one-man election.

    Oil Pollution Act of 1990

    In the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the U.S. Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which President George H.W. Bush signed into law that year.

    The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 increased penalties for companies responsible for oil spills and required that all oil tankers in United States waters have a double hull.

    Exxon Valdez was a single-hulled tanker a double-hull design, by making it less likely that a collision would have spilled oil, might have prevented the Exxon Valdez disaster.

    3 Verdronken Land Van Reimerswaal

    Verdronken land van Reimerswaal, &ldquothe drowned land of Reimerswaal,&rdquo is all that remains of a bustling town in the Netherlands. In its heyday, Reimerswaal was an important port city, growing rich on the trade in mussels and oysters. The first sign of trouble was the devastating St. Felix Flood of November 1530, which brought seawater rushing through many streets. In November 1532, a second storm cut Reimerswaal off from the neighboring town of South Beveland. This newfound isolation caused the town&rsquos economy to decline and its residents began to relocate to higher ground.

    In 1551, another storm destroyed the floodbanks built to protect the town, completely submerging several nearby villages. The last floodbank was broken by yet another flood in 1555, allowing the sea rush in. Even more floods followed. By the end of the 17th century, only a few ruins remained of the town. By the 18th century, the town was completely underwater.

    1. Prototaxites – All Over the World – 350 MYA

    First discovered in 1859 in Canada, Prototaxites have baffled the academic world ever since. Found in many places around the world, these giant spires measured some 24 feet high and had a width of three feet, being dated as early as 420 million years ago and disappearing from the fossil record some 70 million years later. Most believed them to be some form of algae, lichen, or even a primitive form of conifer, but something didn’t add up. Only in 2001, with Francis Hueber at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, did the mystery begin to unravel. He proposed that the huge trunks were actually fungi. He based his assumption on their internal structure, but had no conclusive evidence to back it up.

    To be fair, fungi aren’t actually plants, being more closely related to animals. But it is important to note that fungi were the first organisms to call dry land their permanent home, and make the soil rich enough in nutrients for plants to eventually take root. This is also how C. Kevin Boyce, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago, answered the question of the Prototaxites’ true identity. He analyzed the carbon compositing inside their fossils with the carbon composition of plants from that period. And since plants, unlike fungi or animals, get their carbon only from the air the ratio of carbon isotopes should be the same in all plants from the era. Analyzing the fossils, they came to the conclusion that these huge trunks were not actually plants and were most likely giant mushrooms that dominated that ancient world.