If you consider yourself a world traveler, you must visit Socotra Island. You will be persuaded to believe that you are related to another era of Earth’s history. One among the group of four islands, Socotra Island is geographically secluded from the mainland Africa. The island is home to nearly 700 rare species of flora and fauna, among which 1/3 are considered endemic.
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Socotra (Arabic: سُقُطْرَى Suquṭra), also spelled Soqotra, is an archipelago of four islands located in the Arabian Sea, the largest island of which is also known as Socotra. The territory is part of Yemen, and had long been a subdivision of the Aden Governorate. In 2004, it became attached to the Hadhramaut Governorate, which is much closer to the island than Aden (although the nearest governorate was the Al Mahrah Governorate). In 2013, the archipelago became its own governorate, the Socotra Governorate.
The island of Socotra constitutes around 95% of the landmass of the Socotra archipelago. It lies some 240 kilometres (150 mi) east of the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometres (240 mi) south of the Arabian Peninsula. The island is very isolated, home to a high number of endemic species; up to a third of its plant life is endemic. It has been described as “the most alien-looking place on Earth.” The island measures 132 kilometres (82 mi) in length and 49.7 kilometres (30.9 mi) in width.
There was initially an Oldowan lithic culture in Socotra. Oldowan stone tools were found in the area around Hadibo by V.A. Zhukov, a member of the Russian Complex Expedition in 2008. Socotra appears as Dioskouridou (“of the Dioscuri”) in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a 1st-century AD Greek navigation aid. A recent discovery of texts in several languages, including a wooden tablet in Palmyrene dated to the 3rd century AD, indicate the diverse origins of those who used Socotra as a trading base in antiquity.
In 2001 a group of Belgian speleologists of the Socotra Karst Project investigated a cave on the island Socotra. There, they came across a large number of inscriptions, drawings and archaeological objects. Further investigation showed that these had been left by sailors who visited the island between the 1st century BC and the 6th century AD.
Most of the texts are written in the Indian Brāhmī script, but there are also inscriptions in South Arabian, Ethiopic, Greek, Palmyrene and Bactrian scripts and languages. This corpus of nearly 250 texts and drawings thus constitutes one of the main sources for the investigation of Indian Ocean trade networks in that time period.
A local tradition holds that the inhabitants were converted to Christianity by Thomas the Apostle in AD 52. In the 10th century, the Arab geographer Abu Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdani stated that in his time most of the inhabitants were Christians. Socotra is also mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo; Marco Polo did not pass anywhere near the island but recorded a report that “the inhabitants are baptised Christians and have an ‘archbishop'” who, it is further explained, “has nothing to do with the Pope in Rome, but is subject to an archbishop who lives at Baghdad.” They were Nestorians but also practised ancient magic rituals despite the warnings of their archbishop.