Amazonia

Amazonia

The Tiputini Biodiversity Station, bordering Yasuni National Park, Ecuador

TREASURES OF WESTERN AMAZONIA | JOURNEY TO THE TIPUTINI BIODIVERSITY STATION AND YASUNI NATIONAL PARK

Steven A. Martin, Ph.D., Environmental Management

Click on Photos to Enlarge

The Rio Napo, Ecuador | Western Amazonia

Where is the most biodiverse place on the planet?

In my search for far-flung places to study, I met Professor Kelly Swing, an ecologist with the University San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) in Ecuador, who believes the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS) may well be that place.

Swing told me that the station's output of research marks it as a world-leading biodiversity hotspot. While there are other sites of similar importance, these do not offer the same level of access and safety for researchers.

Tiputini Biodiversity Station | Western Amazonia, Ecuador

Tiputini Biodiversity Station is adjacent to the Yasuni National Park, and together they form the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve.

Location of Yasuni National Park in the western Amazon, Ecuador

Experience of a lifetime

My arrival in the Amazon town of Puerto Francisco de Orellana, Ecuador, better known as El Coca, was little short of disaster. On flying out of Quito, the Andean city nestled at the foot of the infamously active Cotopaxi volcano, we hit turbulence and heavy rain as the plane descended into the Amazon basin.

Packed with an odd mix of environmental researchers and oil workers, the 12-seat twin-engine propeller plane was forced by the weather to turn back across the mountains and the safety of Quito.

Above Quito, Ecuador

Learning there was a second flight scheduled to depart in a few minutes, I cleverly jumped in. However, this plane got delayed on the runway and the previous flight took off ahead of us, arriving first at El Coca.

First sight of the Amazon Basin near Puerto Francisco de Orellana (El Coca)

First sight of an oil drilling station near El Coca

Stranded in the jungle

Just twenty minutes behind my original flight, I landed at a deserted jungle runway.

Since I was not on the original flight, and in the hurry of the storm, the cars and drivers for the university and oil companies had already left.

I was standing in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, completely alone.

Alone in the Western Amazon

Moi Enomenga

The sound of the jungle grew louder as I looked around and saw nothing but trees and mud. It was my first time in the Amazon and I started to think that I might just be in serious trouble.

There was a light rain, no shelter, and the only thing to do was follow the muddy track and see where it led. But which way to go, left or right?

At that moment, a tall, strikingly confident Indian strode out from the forest and walked straight up to me.

He spoke to me in Spanish, "What are you doing here alone?"

Moi Enomenga, Huaorani Amazon eco-warrior and environmental celebrity

I was half terrified, and half relieved to see someone. In halting Spanish, I explained that I was a visitor from the University, and that my car had left without me because I had arrived on a later plane than expected. I was worried he might stab me and steal my camera, but instead he offered to show me the way to the hotel normally used by the university in El Coca.

Although I was stranded for a few days until I got things sorted out, it allowed time to get to know my rescuer. It turned out that he was not just any random passer-by, but a famous environmental campaigner – Moi Enomenga, Huaorani Indian and Amazon eco-warrior.

Interview with Moi Enomenga

Amazon celebrity

Moi is an Amazon celebrity, the son of a proud indigenous leader who chose the traditional life over the ideology of early Christian missionaries. His father took his family deep into the Western Amazon to an area known today as Yasuni National Park, and so instead of learning the Bible, Moi learned deep indigenous knowledge and the cultural traditions of the Huaorani.

The man I met near the runway at El Coca, little did I know, was also the Huaorani jungle boy featured in Savages, a best-selling book by award-winning writer Joe Kane. Moi had matured to become a leader of the local indigenous movement trying to defend the rainforest against the oil companies.

He certainly helped me out – a total stranger in the forest.

"Savages" by Joe Cane, with Moi Enomenga

A voice for the forest

Moi's example shows that one man who chooses to raise his voice can speak for the collective resources of the largest – and most endangered – natural habitat on the planet. Protecting the Amazon rainforest is his life's work, and the Yasuni National Park and surrounding area are testament to his ongoing success.

His recent project is the creation of a new protected area named Yame Reserve, in honor of his late father. In the light of all the growing threats to his environmental and cultural heritage, his willingness to network with tourism organizations, conservation groups, the Ecuadorian government and the United Nations offers hope to this globally vital, and profoundly endangered, natural paradise.

National Geographic | Ecuador's Yasuní National Park

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC 2012 | "Ecuador's Yasuní Park is one of the Amazon's last wild frontiers, boasting an incredible biodiversity—treetop orchids, prowling jaguars, nearly 600 species of birds—and serving as home for two indigenous nations. But a vast untapped oil supply beneath the forest floor is attracting the attention of multinational oil companies. National Geographic sent a team of five photographers, each with a different specialty, into the heart of the Amazon to document the delicate balance of life in Yasuní and how it is being impacted by the demand for oil."

Oil pumping station and water pollution in the Amazon rainforest | Steven Martin

Puerto Francisco de Orellana (El Coca)

El Coca is Ecuador's gateway to what the locals call El Oriente – the East of Ecuador, also known to outsiders as the western Amazon. El Coca is a rustic frontier town of around 45,000 people built at the confluence of the Coca, Napo and Payamino Rivers.

Puerto Francisco de Orellana, or El Coca | Amazon frontier town of nearly 45,000 people and gateway to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station and Yasuni National Park

It was an Ecuadorian holiday weekend and I was unable to get a call though to USFQ. Given my limited time schedule, it was looking like the Tiputini trip was off.

I didn't know exactly where the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS) was, and my assumption that it was "just down the river" was way off.

For several days, I explored El Coca. The Spanish I gained from studying abroad in Spain was a godsend. I met taxi drivers and boat transport services, and eventually a group of oil workers at a makeshift helicopter pad.

They told me it was next to impossible to get to TBS without an organized expedition. The oil companies and other interests had a variety of armed guards, checkpoints and road-blocks along the route. There were also the issues of traversing several rivers, and, of course, a wide range of natural predators, including snakes.

Making phone contact with the university was the only way in.

People of El Coca

People of El Coca

People of El Coca

Moonlight expedition

After several days of this, I returned to the hotel one evening, and reception informed me that USFQ had called. My transport to Tiputini was arranged.

Due to my delay and problems in scheduling transport, I would have to travel to the Biodiversity Station at night. My first reaction was shock, but I figured I was in good hands with USFQ, and there was a full moon and clear sky.

It was a long night, traveling by jeep, by boat, and on foot. First we traveled several hours downstream on the Napo River to the village of Pompeya and the entrance of an oil operation.

In order to pass the oil company's security checkpoint, I needed to produce my passport and the yellow fever vaccination card, which I had gotten in Quito a week earlier. The guards at the checkpoint were armed, dressed in military fatigues, and seemed larger than life.

Next, we drove several more hours by jeep to the reach the bank of the Tiputini River, arriving at just after midnight.

The best was yet to come – we had to navigate the river, a deep and narrow channel carved through the clay that forms the Amazon Basin.

Moonlight on the Tiputini River | Franklin, a Quechua guide with USFQ, whistles to signal our arrival

In a motorized wooden canoe, with the help of a small group of Quechua Indian guides, we powered down the Tiputini River toward the station, dodging obstacles in the water as insects pelted us in the face for two hours.

My knuckles turned white from clutching the sides of the canoe to avoid being catapulted into the river as it tilted sharply left or right to avoid rocks, branches and sand-banks.

Above, the river naturally created an opening to the sky, and the full moon was visible the entire night. The air was fresh and clean. Once my eyes adjusted, I could clearly see the river and banks in the moonlight, and I felt exhilarated to be in the real Amazon at last.

I never felt more alive.

Tiputini Biodiversity Station | Patrice Adret

Select Photos | Travels and Guides at Tiputini

Click on photos to enlarge

Quechua guides at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station

Franklin, my Tiputini guide

Tiputini River transport canoe and guide

Rainforest research observation tower at TBS

Bromeliads in the rainforest canopy at the Tiputini observation tower

View of the Tiputini River below the Rainforest

View of the Tiputini River from TBS during the dry season

Curious Toucan

TBS researchers accommodations


Learn more

If you feel motivated to learn more about the University San Francisco de Quito (USFQ)'s Tiputini Biodiversity Station, or would like to arrange for a public talk on this topic or other Learning Adventures, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

For study abroad, there is nowhere on earth more exciting, remote or rewarding.

Thank you.

–Steven Martin

Thank you for reading my story of the journey to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station and Yasuni National Park

At the request f the TBS administration, I wrote the following letters supporting public and private awareness.


 

Contact USFQ and TBS

Interested parties, including students and scientists, can contact USFQ for more information on joining or supporting education and conservation efforts for these outstanding programs:

Amazon Parrot - Photo Journal - Steven Andrew Martin - Tiputini Biodiversity Station Conservation
Austria

Austria

AUSTRIA AND THE SOUND OF MUSIC | VIENNA, SALZBURG AND INNSBRUCK

Summertime fun in Austria. Thailand's Jantanee Martin visits three of the country's best known cities.

We hope you enjoy these short Vlogs of our summer 2019 European travels.

The Habsburg Imperial Crown | Treasury of the Vienna Hofburg | 962 CE

Austria Map (in Austrian) | 2019 European Learning Adventures


VIENNA

Sites visited and featured in our short video, Vienna, include the St. Stephan's Cathedral, Hofburg Imperial Palace, Albertina Museum Vienna, and the Vienna State Opera.

Vienna | Wien | Austria

  • Video: iPhoneX
  • Stills: iPhoneX and Panasonic GH5
  • Editing: Final Cut Pro
  • Music: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Vienna | City of Music


SALZBURG

Salzburg, Austria, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site widely known as the birthplace of Austrian composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and for the 1965 romantic musical, The Sound of Music.

Locations appearing in our short video include, Kapitelplatz, Salzburg Cathedral, Festungsbahn Funicular Railway, Makartsteg Bridge, Salzach River, Mirabell Palace, Mirabell Garden, Mozartplatz, and The Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Salzburg

  • Video: mostly iPhoneX
  • Stills: mostly Panasonic GH5
  • Editing: Final Cut Pro
  • Music: Waltz of the Flowers, by Tchaikovsky

INNSBRUCK

Sites visited and featured in our short video, include the Museum Goldenes Dachl, Hofburg Imperial Palace, Tyrolean State Museum, Cathedral of St. James, Inn River, and a trip to the top of Innsbruck on the Nordketten Cable Car.

Innsbruck

  • Video: mostly iPhoneX
  • Stills: mostly Panasonic GH5
  • Editing: Final Cut Pro
  • Music: Torrance Sunset, by Dan Lebowitz
  • Thanks to: Hotel Central Innsbruck

Thanks for visiting our Austria Page. If you like these short Vlogs of our 2019 European travels, please visit our YouTube channel at University Filmworks for the complete series, with Surfing Munich, Prague, Budapest, Greece and Istanbul.

Thank you,

Steven & Jantanee Martin

Batanes Islands

Batanes Islands

CHASING JADE ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BATANES ISLANDS CULTURAL ATLAS

Pacific navigator, Batanes Islands, Philippines | Ivatan cultural heritage

Archaeological survey in the Batanes Islands, northern Philippines.

In 2006 I joined an archaeological field study in the Batanes Islands, in the Philippines, together with Prof. David Blundell, Prof. Peter Bellwood, and an international team from the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan.

The 2006 Batanes Islands archaeological survey team with Prof. Peter Bellwood (second from right) | Sabtang Island

Ivatan Idjang fortress | Sabtang

Archaeological survey | Batan

Across the Pacific rainbow

During my post-graduate studies at Taiwan's National Chengchi University (NCCU), I wrote my master's thesis on the Bunun, one of the island's 16 Austronesian ethnolinguistic groups, collectively known as the Formosan Aborigines.

Comparative linguists and anthropologists had theorized for some time that the Formosan languages were among the earliest Austronesian languages, and that some of the speakers of these languages were skilled ocean navigators who had successfully migrated south from Taiwan to the Philippines.

From the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, Austronesian-speaking peoples spread as far west as Madagascar, and as far east as Hawaii.

Today, Austronesian languages comprise a super-family of over 1,250 languages dispersed throughout maritime Southeast Asia and the Pacific (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: Distribution of the Austronesian Language Family | Source: Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI)

In 2005, I had the good fortune of discussing this topic with anthropologist David Blundell and archaeologist Peter Bellwood at Academia Sinica, a research institute located on the outskirts of Taipei, where I often went to use the library services. I clearly remember the cold rainy night when Peter Bellwood produced from his pocket a piece of green jade discovered in an ancient site in the Batanes Islands:

"If the linguists are right about Taiwan as the homeland of Austronesian languages, there must be material evidence, and I think I've found it!"

Taiwan nephrite unearthed in the Batanes Islands | Terra Australis 40

Peter explained that this type of stone, namely a jade classified as Taiwan nephrite, could only have come from Taiwan due to the unique green tint, and Earth scientist Yoshiyuki Iizuka at the Academia Sinica research lab would analyze it in the morning to see if it was true.

The results came back positive – the jade was from the east coast of Taiwan.

I was intrigued by the scientific evidence supporting the "Out of Taiwan" hypothesis – that is, a prehistoric movement of language, material and people out of Taiwan – a cultural diaspora that reached across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Could Taiwan be the "mother island" of the Pacific?

Due to the fact that the Batanes Islands are the nearest island chain to Taiwan, Peter suggested it would be an outstanding place to conduct archaeological research on Taiwan jade.

I was more than keen to go.

Steven Martin (left) and Peter Bellwood (right) interview | Photo and camera work by David Blundell – Basco, Batan, The Philippines | April 2, 2006

Batanes Islands Cultural Atlas

In March of 2006, after attending the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association (IPPA) conference at the University of the Philippines in Manila, I asked Peter if I could tag along as a photographer on his upcoming archaeological adventure to Batanes.

A memorable and educational expedition followed, and a selection of the photographs I took were used in the development of the Batanes Islands Cultural Atlas under the care of David Blundell (See: Batanes Island images by location).

The Batanes Islands Cultural Atlas is part of the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), a global consortium of people who share the vision of creating a distributed virtual library of cultural information based at University of California, Berkeley.

Traveling from the port of Ivana, Batan, to the port of San Vicente, Sabtang | San Vicente Ferrer Church, c. 1785, in the distance

Batanes geography

There are ten islands in the Batanes, three of which are occupied. The provincial capital is Basco, located on the island of Batan, and the highest point is an active volcano, Mt. Iraya, at just over 1,000 meters (see photo below).

The iconic Mt. Iraya | Elevation 1,009m | last erupted in 1454

The islands are located south of the Bashi Channel, midway between Taiwan and Luzon, an area known for strong winds, swift ocean currents, high waves, and large tropical storms.

Batanes lies at the heart of Typhoon Alley, so named for frequent and notorious typhoons. The satellite image below shows the eerie eye of Super Typhoon Meranti surrounding the island of Itbayat on September 13, 2016.

The eerie eye of Super Typhoon Meranti surrounding Itbayat, Batanes | September 13, 2016

The islands were built through geologic and physiographic processes, whereby ancient coral reefs formed a limestone base coated millions of years later in thick volcanic ash, like a dried-up vanilla sponge cake with a layer of fresh chocolate icing. As an ongoing process spanning 35 million years, the limestone core of Batanes has been steadily uplifted by tectonic forces while at the same time peppered with minerals and rocks of all sizes from volcanic explosions, resulting in distinctive landscapes host to diverse flora and fauna.

Today, the Batanes islands form a unique karst landscape of limestone cliffs, caves, and underground streams, ringed with volcanic stones now tumbled and polished in the surf to form expansive bays and boulder beaches.

Batanes Islands Geography | Volcanic rocks tumbled in the surf to form a boulder beach | Limestone cliffs in the distance

Figure 2 (below) shows the position of the Batanes Islands, including the three main islands explored during the research, namely Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat.

Figure 2: The Batanes Islands, staging grounds for the Austronesian diaspora | Source: Peter Bellwood, Australia National University (ANU)

The Ivatan Language, culture and history

The Ivatan people are believed to have migrated to the islands during the Neolithic period, approximately 4,000 years ago. Their exact origin remains a topic of debate.

Ivatan is an Austronesian language, representing an early branch of the Malayo-Polynesian languages (i.e. Bashiic languages), which are distinct from the Formosan languages on Taiwan. Cultural and linguistic connections with Taiwan and Bashiic languages include the Yami, a fishing, seafaring, and boat-building culture on Orchid Island, located just off Taiwan's southeast coast.

The Ivatans originally built storm-proof thatched houses until limestone construction was introduced by the Spanish in the16th century. The long-lasting limestone buildings have become cultural icons for the tourism industry.

Ivatan Fisher | Chavayan, Sabtang

Ivatan limestone houses | Batan

Ivatan fisher and family | Sabtang

Cleaning Mahi-mahi | Batan

Drying fish | Batan

Batanes Islands oral history videos

These conversations (posted on YouTube and on the ECAI website) were recorded by David Blundell and myself in Ivana, Batan Island. We carried out the interviews on the veranda of the home of Mr (Pablo) and Mrs (Anquilina) Valientes, with additional contributions from their grandson Edwin Valientes and other relatives.

Conversations with Pablo and Anquilina Valientes | Ivana, Batan

 

Pablo Valientes, in his 90s, describes Ivatan language and recounts the local resistance against the Japanese occupation of the island during 1941-1945. The movement was known as BISUMI, Fighters for Basco, Ivana, Sabtang, Uyugan, Mahatao, and Itbayat (six municipalities of the Batanes).

Anquilina Valientes, in her 80s, discusses Ivatan language comparatively with other local language dialects in terms of expressions and variations in other villages and islands.

Archaeologist for a week

I relished the opportunity to play archaeologist for a week, and it left me with a lasting appreciation for this very important type of work, helping to piece together the improbable story of human history from whatever clues our ancestors left behind.

The Batanes Islands were the key staging grounds for a well-established ancient maritime trading network. This was evident from the discovery of Taiwan nephrite workshops, where ancient craftsmen shaped tools and created art. They would then have traded their products, sending them southward over vast distances of open sea, taking advantage of a sociocultural and commercial network which spread right across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

What impressed me most in Batanes archaeology was the richness of each site, the number of sites, the potential for finding new sites, and the vast extent of the maritime trading networks the sites represented.

Random sampling by soil auger | Archaeological survey at Batan

Roadside archaeological site | Sabtang

Peter Bellwood leading the team

Ivatan Idjang fortress | Sabtang

Ivatan Idjang fortress | Sabtang

View from the Idjang fortress | Sabtang

In the good company of distinguished professionals, I had the opportunity to witness the recovery of ancient artifacts from beneath the soil, and to make a personal connection with the spirit of human endeavor. Peter's team had found clear evidence of workshops producing earthenware, jewelry, adzes, fishing tools, and other artifactual materials, some of which were indeed crafted out of Taiwan nephrite.

David Blundell describes such artifacts as the voice of Austronesian history, speaking to us from the ancient past, imagining them as, "Austronesian-speaking stones."

Through excavations at archaeological sites in Taiwan, the Philippines, East Malaysia, Southern Vietnam, and peninsular Thailand, green nephrite from Fengtian in eastern Taiwan tells a story of ancient maritime trade networks and cultural communication in a 3,000-km-wide halo around the South China Sea (Hung et al., 2007).

Figure 3 (below) displays Taiwan nephrite artifacts uncovered from sites in the Batanes Islands, including a Fengtian (Taiwan) nephrite adze (A) from the Sunget site, Batan, which dates to between 1200 and 800 BC (Hung & Iizuka, 2013).

Figure 3: (A) Nephrite adze from Sunget, Batan. (B and C) Three-pointed lingling-o and pelta-shaped nephrite segment from Savidug, Sabtang | Source: Dr. Hsiao-Chun Hung

In Batanes, I gained a new appreciation for the study of ancient history, as well as for the craftsmanship of the ancient islanders. Archaeology embodies the spirit of human exploration – not exploring only space, but exploring also the long-forgotten past. Working with the team in Batanes opened my eyes to the value of different methods of research, the joy of collaborating with friends and colleagues from different universities, and the importance of publishing findings in peer-reviewed journals so that all future researchers in this area can benefit.

Exploratory research | Batan Island

Batanes photo journal Highlights

Below, photos taken during the Batanes Island trip with David Blundell in late March and early April, 2006.

Click on photos to enlarge, visit my Batanes Photo Album, or explore the ECAI Batanes Islands Cultural Atlas.

Batan Island

Mahatao Lighthouse, Batan | Mt. Iraya in the background

Surfing waves | Batan

Ivatan boat builder | Mahatao, Batan

The Basco Church | Batan

Site survey location | Batan

Batan Island beach

Ivatan youth | Basco

Sabtang Island

Arriving at San Vicente | Sabtang

Water taxi | Navigator of the Seas | Sabtang Lighthouse

Exploring near Chavayan | Sabtang

Chavayan Beach | Sabtang

Ivatan fisherman | Chavayan, Sabtang

Ivatan House | Malakdang, Sabtang

Ivatan house and culture | Malakdang, Sabtang

Ivatan Community Art Basco, Batan

Batanes Heritage Center | National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Provincial Office

During my time with David Blundell in Basco, Batan, we got to spend a few unexpected days around town after learning that the weekly Asian Spirit flight had been delayed.

It was a great opportunity to spend time with the Ivatan community at the Batanes Heritage Center, where Ivatan youth were painting a mural telling the story of navigation and settlement in the islands.

Pictured here, the mural begins with a canoe driving through the surf and landing in the Batanes Islands under the blazing sun. The story continues with the development of the characteristic thatched roof houses, agriculture, pottery, and the arrival of the Catholic religion. The third section of the mural welcomes the computer age, with sports, education, and modern transportation connecting the islands with the world.

Ivatan youth imagine their cultural history through art | Basco

Ivatan community art illustrating the diaspora and evolution of Austronesian culture

Personal interviews with Prof. Wilhelm G. Solheim and Prof. Peter Bellwood in The Philippines

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to personally interview two of the most accomplished scholars in Austronesian Studies, namely Prof. Wilhelm G. Solheim from the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD), and Prof. Peter Bellwood from Australia National University (ANU).

Interviews and video arranged by David Blundell.

Wilhelm Solheim (left) and David Blundell (right) at the University of the Philippines Diliman | April 6, 2006

Prof. Wilhelm G. Solheim II

The interview topic in this short film is the cultural history of the Austronesian speaking peoples, and in particular Professor Solheim's Nusantao hypothesis. Professor Dr. Wilhelm Solheim II was instrumental in developing the Archaeological Studies Program at UPD.

Prof. Wilhelm G. Solheim II | Source: National Geographic 1979 | Secrets from the Past: Ch 2 Who Uncovers Ancient Secrets?

Prof. Solheim died on July 25, 2014, at the age of 89. It was an honor to have met him and I hope viewers can appreciate something of his personal warmth from this short interview.

Interviewing Prof. Wilhelm G. Solheim | Clip 6 | University of the Philippines, Diliman (UPD) campus | 2006

Prof. Peter Bellwood

In this short clip, Prof. Peter Bellwood shares his personal history and educational background, and discusses his interests in Austronesian studies. He suggests to those interested in this field of study to choose one of three main areas of research, namely comparative linguistics, archaeology, or human genetics.

Interviewing Peter Bellwood at the Basco Pier, Batan Island | 2006

Relevant books by Peter Bellwood

Online Learning Resources

Ivatan Studies Journal | Graduate School Research

Thank you for visiting my Batanes Islands Learning Adventure page.

I hope you enjoy my photos and the information in the links provided. If you feel motivated to travel to the Batanes or other Austronesian heritage sites, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

–Steven Martin

Cambodia

Cambodia

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY OF CAMBODIA

Dr Steven A Martin

Cambodia is a small country with an awe-inspiring history, where natural resources and the opportunities presented by geography played a leading role in the development of one of the world’s greatest historical civilizations, the Khmer.

International students at Siem Reap, Cambodia | Khmer cultural tourism

Map showing the Tonle Sap in central Cambodia | Modified from: portal.gms-eoc.org/maps | Click to enlarge

Buddha faces at the Bayon | Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Water, Stone, Iron and Wood

The natural abundance of fresh water has always been the basis of agriculture and transport systems, thanks to the Mekong River (Mother of Waters) and the Tonle Sap (Great Lake), two of the world’s greatest hydrologic systems.

Meanwhile, ready access to stone, mainly rusty-red laterites and pastel sandstones, provided the building blocks of early civilization in the region.

Emboldened with hardwood forests, iron ore deposits, and the mastery of fire, the Khmer were empowered to build houses, fire kilns, and smelt ores and forge the tools and weapons of the largest ancient empire in mainland Southeast Asia.

The Mekong River

The Mekong is the 10th largest river in the world, and is the symbolic heart of tropical mainland Southeast Asia. Seasonal flooding brings silt and nourishment to the land, and nutrients and freshwater fish to the Tonle Sap, producing two ecologically vibrant outcomes, the floodplain and the flooded forest.

The floodplains receive water and minerals from as far away as Tibet, naturally irrigating and fertilizing enormous tracks of low-lying land, perfect for cultivation of rice and other food crops. As the Tonle Sap swells, it creates a flooded forest similar to the Amazon basin, where partially-submerged trees and their root systems create a haven for spawning fish.

Historically, fish resources on the Tonle Sap were among the most plentiful on Earth. Elderly fishermen still boast of the days of their youth when the Tonle Sap was so teeming with fish that all they had to do was row their open boats into the lake and wait for a full catch to jump in.

Mekong River | Click to view hi-res topography map of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)

Mekong River at Sam Pun Boak | Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand | Click to Thai Geography Page

The Tonle Sap

The Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Asia and a global hot-spot of biodiversity, a valued sanctuary for migrating birds.

Tonle Sap River, which connects the lake with the Mekong, is the life-blood of the lake and one of the only rivers in the world to display an astonishing natural feature: the biannual flow reversal.

As rains brought by the Southwest Monsoon feed tributaries along the six countries of the Mekong (China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam), the Tonle Sap River reverses the direction of its flow, and carries an extraordinary volume of water and fish species from the Mekong into the lake.

This remarkable hydrologic event occurs from June to October, when the river fills the lake to as much as five times its normal depth and area. In the dry season (November to April), water drains out of the lake and toward the Mekong.

The lake is the key source of food for nearly fifty-percent of the Cambodian people and represents the greatest inland fishery network in Asia. The Mekong and the Tonle Sap remain the life-blood of a country and its resilient people who use their local culture and knowledge to follow the seasonal changes of the monsoon to survive.

Tourism boats on the Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake

Laterite

Laterite, a soil type and stone comprised of compressed soil, is a product of the tropical Cambodian basin, where thousands of years of alternating wet and dry seasons and oscillating floods create the conditions for its formation. As a process, silicates are washed out of the soil, leaving iron and aluminum oxides to build up and form laterite.

Khmer architects learned many centuries ago how to cut cubes of this metallic mud-like rock from the ground in large blocks and set them to dry quickly, forming a near lava-like stone perfectly suited to building megalithic structures such as Angkor Wat.

Laterite is to Cambodia what limestone was to Egypt, a workable stone employed in the building of enormous structures that exemplify the historical geography of a great civilization.

However, compared with Egyptian limestone, laterite forms coarse blocks pitted with holes. It is difficult to prepare a clean, smooth surface with the aesthetic qualities desired for a religious monument.

"Laterite is to Cambodia what limestone was to the Egypt"

Tropical weathering, or "laterization" near the Tonle Sap

Laterite blocks drying in the sun at Siem Reap

Sandstone

On the other hand, sandstone, another resource available to the Khmers, is an exceptional facing stone. Sandstone was also used as a base for carving fine artwork such as bas-reliefs, many of which are still visible today in temples and monuments throughout Cambodia.

Phnom Kulen

A geographic blessing to the Khmer economy and collective conscious is Phnom Kulen, a forty kilometer long isolated chain of small sandstone mountain plateaus fifty kilometers to the northeast of Siem Reap.

Ancient sandstone quarry at Phnom Kulen

The Kulen Mountains are sacred to the Khmer and were the definitive source of sandstone throughout the Angkorian period (early 9th to 15th century).

River of 1000 Lingas | Kbal Spean | Phnom Kulen

Sandstone is a clean and sometimes colorfully pink soft stone, ideal for depicting the Apsara dancers (Khmer celestial nymphs) and many other Hindu and Buddha images still visible today.

The Kulen Mountains were a definitive stronghold against invading forces from Java during the early Khmer period, later forming a vital part of the Khmer empire’s political and cultural geography, and are still regarded by Cambodians today as the source of holy waters.

Apsara dancers in pink sandstone

Phnom Kulen | Sacred mountain and holy water of the Khmer

Iron and Fire

The early Cambodians developed a mastery of fire and built kilns to smelt ores, cast iron, and fire ceramics for pots and bowls used in households and temples for storing foods, water, and oils. Iron ore was an important natural resource in Khmer history, and ore deposits began to be exploited during the pre-Angkor period.

Khmer sword - Bronze handle - Iron blade - Dr Steven A Martin research

Khmer sword with bronze handle and iron blade

The Khmer demonstrated an early understanding of technologies needed for casting iron, particularly for tools and weapons. The need for iron ores and production drove development and distribution networks, including roads throughout the basin. Iron gave the Khmer purpose, unity, and regional superiority.

The Battle of Tonle Sap bas relief depicting warfare among the Khmer and Champa kingdoms

In this Day and Age

Angkor, formerly a city of nearly a million people, is the result of a complex interaction of cultural and industrial influences, whose natural resources provided the setting for a globally unique historical geography which gave birth to a civilization that, at its zenith, was arguably the greatest in the pre-industrialized world.

Young monks at Bantaey Srei historical site, Cambodia

Today, there is a renaissance of Khmer architectural and engineering spirit, unmistakably visible in the construction of new buildings and hotels in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and around the country.

After the horrors of the Pol Pot period, Cambodia has recovered as swiftly as jungle growing back over a ruined temple, and now the country is back on track as a vibrant economy which is one of the major engines of development at the heart of the ASEAN region.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia, receives millions of tourist per year

Perhaps more than ever, the sustainability of Cambodia’s unique natural resources and the natural gifts of her geography will once again play leading roles as a new Khmer civilization once more steps forward to take its rightful place among the world’s oldest and proudest human cultures.

Apsara Dancer | Classical Khmer performance art | Siem Reap, Cambodia

Personal Videos On Location

Short video clips featuring Cambodian national guide Ratha Singh. Mr Ratha shares his knowledge of Khmer history during our 2015 visit to Phnom Kulen, Siem Reap.

Phnom Kulen | Beng Mealea Temple

Phnom Kulen | River of 1000 Lingas

Siem Reap | Bas Relief at Angkor

Select Documentaries

There are currently a significant number of documentary films on Angkor Wat and the Khmer Empire of varying content and quality. Of these, I have selected three videos below for teaching the cultural and historical geographies of Cambodia and the Khmer Civilization.

Khmer Mystery | Fou-nan Lost City | With Charles Higham and Miriam Stark 41:00

Angkor Wat | Land of Gods (I)

Angkor Wat | Land of Gods (II)

Environmental Documentaries Mekong River and Tonle Sap

The building of dams throughout the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) affect the lives of millions of people and the ecology and biodiversity of the region.

Asian Development Bank | Saving Cambodia's Great Lake 22:39


About the Research

This research was inspired through experiences at the 2014 Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association (IPPA) in Siem Reap, and my 2015 tours to historical sites in Cambodia.

Siem Reap, Cambodia | David Blundell (left) | Steven Martin (center) | Charles Higham (right)

Special thanks to Prof. David BlundellProf. Charles HighamPeng Ponna (Mr. William) at Paññāsāstra University, and our Siem Reap guide, Ratha Seng.

Galapagos

Galapagos

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CHARLES DARWIN | EVOLUTION, ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Steven A. Martin, Ph.D., Environmental Management

Click on photos to enlarge.

Galapagos brown pelican

  • View website photos as 1800x1200 slideshow

In 2003, the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), Ecuador, invited me to visit the opening of a new international college campus on San Cristobal Island – in the Galapagos!

I didn't waste any time in booking the flight to Quito to meet the staff who were developing the facility and study program.

Study Abroad Journal | 2003

After a meeting at the university main campus in Quito, I flew to San Cristobal, the administrative capital of the islands.

I arrived at the new campus in the afternoon, and although the accommodations were not yet officially open to staff and students, they made an exception, and I was among the very first to stay at the new facility.

Welcome to San Cristóbal | Galápagos National Park Headquarters

Arriving in San Cristobal

USFQ | GAIAS | GSC | San Cristobal

What I found was way beyond my expectations – a new college campus built directly in front of a world-class beach!

Today the USFQ facility in the Galapagos has grown to include a scientific research center developed in conjunction with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).

Below are a few photos taken in 2003 when the original community college opened to offer students on the island an opportunity to study locally.

Study on the beach | San Cristobal

USFQ GAIAS | GSC | Study Abroad on San Cristobal

USFQ programming

At the time of my visit in 2003, the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) was established as a branch of the USFQ in Quito. Current programing includes USFQ Galapagos semester abroad opportunities, service learning projects, and ongoing projects with the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) in collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Semester program with USFQ

As of 2018, international students who study at USFQ can select semester-long courses from one of four academic tracks in the biological and social sciences:

  • Evolution, Ecology and Conservation
  • Marine Ecology
  • People, Politics and the Environment
  • Sustainable Tourism

Helpful links

The newly-opened USFQ campus | 2003

Oceanfront classrooms | 2003

USFQ accommodations | 2003

San Cristóbal | Administrative capital of Galápagos Province

The Galápagos Islands are located nearly 1,000 kilometers west of the South American coast, and I stayed on San Cristobal, the fifth largest and easternmost island in the archipelago.

I knew the islands received large waves year-round from the northern and southern hemispheres – But was it safe to go surfing there, considering the abundance of marine life and a wide variety of shark species?

Map of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Fortunately, I had packed several surfboards for the trip, and was able to meet up with the local surfers, who explained that although sharks are definitely of concern, they are well-fed due to the natural abundance of fish in coastal waters, and not generally interested in eating surfers.

However, Galapagos sea lions were another story, particularly males protecting females, and mothers protecting their young. Males reach weights over 400 kilos and females average 120 kilos when full grown. Although they barked at me in the water, and chased me around a little, nothing serious happened.

I had surfed among frisky sea lions before in California, but sharing the waves with large marine iguanas was a first for me. I watched as they launched themselves off the rocks and dove through the big waves like fearless prehistoric surfers.

A Galapagos marine iguana checks the surf before taking the plunge

Galapagos Marine Iguana | Surfing Galapagos

In 1835, a 26-year-old Charles Darwin (1809-1882) arrived in the Galapagos Islands aboard the Beagle, a 10-gun brig-sloop, captained by Robert FitzRoy, landing at San Cristóbal.

Forever touched by his experiences in the Galapagos, Darwin went on to develop his theory of evolution, and is best remembered for his research on the process of natural selection. His name, now a globally-recognized acronym for his scientific theories, is often expressed as simply "Darwinism".

As far as we know, Darwin didn't surf, but it is safe to assume that he marveled at the big waves, as well as the wildlife around San Cristobal.

Today, the port city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, capital of the Galápagos province, remains the oldest permanent settlement of the islands.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno | San Cristobal

Evolution in theory and practice

Having the opportunity to visit this amazing place, following in the footsteps of Darwin, was a truly life-changing experience. Iguanas diving into the sea, seals of many different types, colors, shapes and sizes, the incredible variety of birdlife, dolphins and sharks swimming near the coast, and giant land-bound tortoises, for which the archipelago is named, all combined to make it one of the most incredible places on Earth.

Like the tortoises, my time in Galapagos was mainly land-based, in contrast to tourists who spend most of their time in the islands on live-aboard boats. While I may not have had the opportunity to travel between the 13 different islands, go diving, or see very much of the marine wildlife, I was there on my own, independent of tour guides and groups, rules and regulations.

I was free to walk to local surf spots in the mornings, paddle out to sea, sometimes alone, and to explore inland areas in the afternoons and evenings to see the flora, fauna, and the geographical features of the island.

Frigatebird | Crater Lagoon

Around San Cristobal

One of the benefits of spending time on the same island was getting to know the local people. I met fishermen, shopkeepers, restaurant owners, surfers, and the new staff who were setting up the university program and community college.

I fondly remember the smell and taste of home-grown Galapagos coffee, kindly shared by the owner of a small cafe in the early mornings before opening to the public.

Appreciating natural history and travel

Like Darwin, spending time in the Galapagos changed the direction of my life.

This amazing, one-of-a-kind world of biodiversity, deepened my appreciation of natural history and my enthusiasm for learning and travel.

Sunbathing on the beach in front of the USFQ campus

Toward the end of my stay, I called home to the US from a payphone right on the beach, and agreed to sell my stake in our business, Surf Lessons Hawaii, to my business partner. With that cash, I was free to attend graduate school in Taiwan and begin to realize my plan to launch an online magazine, the Study Abroad Journal.

Learning is an adventure.

Thank you for visiting my Galapagos Learning Adventure page.

I hope you enjoy my photos and the information in the links provided. If you feel motivated to learn more about this amazing educational opportunity, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

–Steven Martin

Online Resources

San Cristobal | Galapagos

Greece

Greece

GREEK CIVILIZATION AND THE RISE OF THE POLIS

I am currently developing a series of topics and presentations on early Greek civilization and the rise of the polis for students enrolled in our European Studies program.

In Greek, a polis is generally understood as meaning ‘city-state’, ‘citizens’, or ‘community’. In contemporary intellectual circles, the term may represent an ancient Athenian devotion to freedom of choice, collective citizenship, and democratic principles.

The Acropolis, 2019 | Click to see more photos

Rise of the Polis

The rise of the polis personifies the dawn of the world’s first-ever democracy, a concept manifest in English terms, such as ‘policy’, ‘political’, and ‘police’, as well as globally-recognized place names, such as Indianapolis, Naples, and Tripoli.

Join me as I develop this web page and explore the legacy of Athenian democracy and  philosophy – a series of historical events and places which profoundly shaped the world we live in today.

This page is intended to support my university presentation on ancient Greek civilization. Development of this page is ongoing, with short stories, photo albums and videos forthcoming. 

Geography of Greece and the Aegean Sea

Five archaeological sites

Based on five key archaeological sites we visited in July, 2019, I hope you will enjoy the images and videos posted below.

  • The Acropolis of Athens
  • Island of Aegina and Temple of Aphaia
  • Cape Sounio and Temple of Poseidon
  • Oracle of Delphi and Temple of Apollo
  • Mycenae Archaeological Site and Mycenaean Civilization

Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Click on photos to enlarge.

THE ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS

In our short video, filmed and photographed during a single afternoon at the Acropolis of Athens, we visited The Temple of Athena Nike, The Propylaea, The Parthenon, The Erechtheion, Temple of Olympia Zeus, The Theatre of Dionysus, and the new world-class Acropolis Museum, Bookstore, and Café for lunch.

We sure wish we had more time at the Acropolis, but with our limited budget, and just four days in Greece, we were runnin’ and gunnin’.

Acropolis of Athens, Greece

Parthenon, Acropolis | On site interpretation sign

Bookstore at the new Acropolis Archaeology Museum

ISLAND OF AEGINA AND THE TEMPLE OF APHAIA

Island of Aegina and the Temple of Aphaia

Temple of Aphaia | Island of Aegina | c. 500 BCE

Fisherman | Near the island of Aegina | Saronic Gulf

CAPE SOUNION AND THE TEMPLE OF POSEIDON

Sanctuary of Poseidon | Cape Sounion | 444 BCE

Sanctuary of Poseidon | On site interpretation sign

Sunset at Cape Sounion | Southernmost tip of the Attic peninsula

THE ORACLE AT DELPHI AND THE TEMPLE OF APOLLO

The Temple of Apollo at Delphi | Mount Parnassus, Central Greece

On site interpretation sign | Temple of Apollo | Delphi

Philosopher of Delphi | c. 270 BCE | Delphi Archaeological Museum

THE MYCENAEAN CIVILIZATION | LATE BRONZE AGE

The Mycenae archaeological site | Mykines, Argolis, Peloponnese | 1600–1100 BCE

Mycenaean Woman | Fresco wall painting | c. 1350 BCE | Mycenae Archaeological Museum | Mykines

Mask of Agamemnon | 1500 BCE | Mycenae Archaeological Museum | Mykines


ARCHAEOLOGY NEWS

210,000-year-old Homo sapien skull bone discovered in Greece | Apidima Cave, Mani Peninsula, Peloponnese | Nature Science Journal

July 10, 2019 | Nature | International Journal of Science | “Apidima Cave fossils provide earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia

Credit | Lead author | Paleoanthropologist, Katerina Harvati | Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany

Source | Katerina Harvati | University of Tübingen


Greece and Asia Minor documentary film page

Featuring 30 documentary films of interest on ancient Greece, Turkey, and the civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Click to Greece and Asia Minor Documentary Film Page


Thank you for visiting my Greece Learning Adventure page.

I hope you enjoy the photos, videos, and the information in the links provided. If you feel motivated to learn more about Greece or other Learning Adventures, or would like to arrange for me to give a public talk, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

–Steven Martin

Jantanee Martin | Olives trees at the Acropolis

In search of the Polis | Parthenon | Athens, Greece


Acknowledgment | Prof. Donald Kagan | Yale Lectures

My research has been greatly influenced by the works of Prof. Donald Kagan (1932-2021), having reviewed his books and lectures prior to visiting archaeological sites in Greece.

Donald Kagan | Introduction to Ancient Greek History | Recorded in Fall 2007

Istanbul

Istanbul

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – WALKING THROUGH TIME AND TRADITION

For students of Eastern Civilization, Western Civilization, and general readership

Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul – Three names for the same city suggesting time, tradition and empire. As we walked through this majestic city of art, architecture, cuisine, culture and religion, the streets transformed from a tourist site into a one-of-kind Learning Adventure.

Hagia Sophia | Istanbul, Turkey | CE 537

With 15 million people, ancient castles, grand palaces, and modern museums, Istanbul spans two continents (Europe and Asia) and links two seas (the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea).

This is our story and what impressed us most.

View of the Golden Horn from Galata, Beyoglu, Istanbul | iPhone X panorama

1840 Map of Constantinople – Istanbul, Turkey | SDUK steel plate engraving

Traveling with my wife, Jantanee, we explored the city's architecture, the world-class Istanbul Archaeology Museums, and local bookstores. We learned about prehistory and the Hittite civilization, studied the expansion of Greek trade and culture, touched the ancient walls of the Eastern Roman Empire, and dazzled at the heights of Ottoman palace life, prestige and power.

We hope you enjoy our photos, videos, and the information in the links provided.

iPhone X Memory  Videos

The videos featured here were shot, edited and posted by iPhone X Memories computer-generated editing software.

iPhone X video | Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, Taksim Square

iPhone X video | Bosphorus Cruise, Black Sea

iPhone X video | Topkapi Palace, Archaeology Museums


Below, feature photos were shot with our Panasonic GH5 body and Lumix 12-60 mm lense.

Click on images to enlarge.

Bosphorus and Black Sea

A ship enters the Bosphorus from the Black Sea

Bosphorus fishers | View of Galata and Beyoglu across the strait

Jantanee boarding a Bosphorus taxi to Anadolu Kavagi and the Black Sea

Coastal residences on the Bosphorus

Rumelihisari (Rumelian Castle) | Beginning 1452 with Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror (Mehmed II)

Istanbul Archaeological Museums | Beginning 1891

Collectively, the Istanbul Archaeological Museums as an entity was founded in 1891 with the development of the main Archaeological Museum and later the Museum of the Ancient Orient in 1935, followed by the Museum of Islamic Art in 1953 (originally Mehmed II's Tiled Kiosk of 1472, one of the oldest structures in Istanbul).

Entrance ticket for the Istanbul Archaeological Museums

What impressed us most about the museums was the quality and quantity of ancient artifacts on display, with buildings, floors and glass cases packed with statuary, orthostats and cuneiform tablets from Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Syria, representing long lost civilizations – Assyrian, Hittite and Sumerian.

Courtyard of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums

Painting by Sirinoz 1994 | Based on Schedel 1493 Engraving of Byzantine Istanbul Turkey – Chain across the Golden Horn

King Shalmaneser IV of Assyria | 8th century BCE stele with inscription

The Hittite Treaty of Kadesh | c. 1259 BCE

As a university lecturer of Asian Studies in anthropology, it was certainly a pleasure to see, and photograph, the original c.1259 BCE Treaty of Kadesh -- a.k.a. the Egyptian/Hittite Peace Treaty -- generally considered to be the world’s oldest peace treaty. One of the most important documents in Near Eastern history, the treaty was made following the infamous 1274 BCE Battle of Kadesh between the Hittites of Asia Minor and the Egyptians led by Ramses II. The battle took place near the current day Lebanon-Syria border.

Peace Treaty of Kadesh (Hittite version) 1259 BCE | Museum of the Ancient Orient

Two versions of the treaty survive, one engraved in hieroglyphics at the Temple of Karnak, Egypt, the other found at the ancient Hittite capital city of Hattusa (Bogazkale, Turkey) in 1906, inscribed in cuneiform in the Akkadian language. In respective versions, each party claims victory. Today the treaty serves as a global symbol of conflict resolution, with a copy on permanent exhibition at the United Nations Headquarters, New York City.

Topkapi Palace | Beginning CE 1459

Books and YouTube never really prepared us for the size, detail and grandeur of the Topkapi Palace Conservation Area, part of the Sultanahmet Archaeological Park.

As we walked through 500 years of Ottoman history and got lost in intimate parks, gardens, palaces, rooms, corridors and chambers, what impressed us most was the display of wealth and empire, as if everything the Sultans had collected through centuries of conquest and diplomacy was now protected, available and public. It was all there – an extravaganza of exposition.

The Imperial Hall and throne of the Sultan, Topkapi Palace

Constructed by Mehmed II (a.k.a. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror) beginning 1459 after his infamous siege of Constantinople, the palace became the administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans until 1923 when the Ministry of Culture and Tourism transformed the property into a national museum.

Courtyard of the Favourites | The Harem

Among the most elaborate areas of the palace complex is the Imperial Harem, a labyrinth of 400 private rooms and courtyards designed for the sultan’s mother, wives, concubines and children.

The Golden Road of the Harem

Hagia Sophia | Beginning CE 537

Hagia Sophia, Greek for ‘holy wisdom’, is Turkey's most visited tourist attraction. Conceived in CE 537 by Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I, it remained the world’s largest cathedral and embodiment of Byzantine architecture until 1453 when Constantinople was overpowered by Mehmed II.

From CE 537, the Hagia Sophia was celebrated by Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans alike

Through the ages, the Hagia Sophia evolved into an Ottoman imperial mosque, complete with four minarets, until 1935 when the Turkish government secularized the site and opened it to the public as the Ayasofya Museum.

Ayasofya Museum balcony

We found the mosque an eclectic mingling of Christian and Islamic art history, from enormous round symbols of Islamic calligraphy hung high overhead, to the restored mosaics of Holy Roman emperors as contemporaries of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Islamic features include the Mihrab (center) and Minbar (right) | iPhone X panorama

Taksim Square and Istiklal walking street

Located on the European side of Istanbul, Taksim Square, Beyoglu, is the heart of the modern city, where the Istiklal walking street (Istiklal Caddesi or Independence Avenue) intersects with the Istanbul Metro and the 1928 Republic Monument.

1928 Republic Monument at Taksim Square

The monument has been an important location for political protests and represents the founding of the Republic of Turkey after the Turkish War of Independence.

Jantanee rides the Taksim street car | Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue)

During our walks, highlights included traditional lokanta restaurants serving hot pre-cooked Turkish food, the sound of the historic hand-rung bell of the red and white Taksim Tunel  tramway, the touristic draw of the Koska shops selling Turkish sweets, and the historical and archaeological English language sections of bookstores.

Koska Turkish sweets | Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue)

Student resources | Maps of Turkey

Geographical map of Turkey | Click to enlarge

Good reads

Beyoglu, Istanbul, has a number of charming book stores featuring locally-published works. We were impressed by the many titles on archaeology in Asia Minor, ranging from specific sites to great civilizations in the region, such as the Hittites and Luwians.

Here are few good reads, suggestions and author websites.

 

The Hittites | 2011 Fatih Cimok

Greco-Roman Cities of Aegean Turkey | 2014 Henry Matthews

The Luwian Civilization – Missing Link in the Aegean Bronze Age | 2016 Eberhard Zangger

Greece and Asia Minor documentary film page

Featuring 30 documentary films of interest on ancient Greece, Turkey, and the civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Click to Greece and Asia Minor Documentary Film Page

Special thanks to Daru Sultan Hotel Galata

Hospitality can make or break a hotel, city, or even an entire country. In our case, Seyit and Ugur 'made' our Learning Adventure through their charm, humor and insider travel suggestions.

Seyit (left) and Ugur (right) | Daru Sultan Hotel Galata


Thank you for visiting our Istanbul Learning Adventure page.

We hope you enjoy the photos, videos, and the information in the links provided. If you feel motivated to learn more about Turkey or other Learning Adventures, or would like to arrange for me to give a public talk, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

–Steven Martin

Jewel of Travel

Jewel of Travel

Eiffel Tower - Paris France - Steven Andrew Martin - Jewel of Travel

Paris, France | 1993

THE JEWEL OF TRAVEL

By Steven A. Martin, PhD

First published as Great Expectations in 1999 by the International Honor Society, this experiential essay explores how the dream of world travel matches up with the reality.

Great expectations

As a young man in the 1980s, I was confident that the more I knew about the world, the more I would enjoy life. I dreamed of visiting the world's iconic places, having fun, and getting a global education. Then, in 1998, I met a man from the US State Department on a bus ride en route to the Dead Sea. He told me, “Travel makes you smarter but less happy.”

Jerusalem, Israel | 1998

My dream of international travel

In my early thirties, I was lucky enough to be able to realize some of those dreams. I visited the Far East and the Middle East. I paddled a boat through the Amazon Rainforest, drove a camper through the Australian Outback, and trekked through the Tibetan Plateau. I saw the Great Pyramid at Giza, skateboarded along the Great Wall of China, and saw the sunset at the Taj Mahal. I crossed the Yangtze, cruised down the Nile and studied the archaeological sites along the Indus. I visited the great museums and historical sites of London, Paris and Rome.

Taj Mahal Agra India 2001 - Steven Andrew Martin - Jewel of Travel

Taj Mahal, Agra, India | 2001

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt | 1998

Great Wall of China | 2002

The first 10 countries

In the first three years, I visited ten countries, approaching them with a romantic and optimistic mindset. My great expectations were fulfilled – I was seeing the world, having fun, and living my dream of travel.

Surfing in the Bay of Biscay, Spain | 1993

10 to 20 countries

With the next ten countries, I became increasingly aware of the serious issues facing our planet. The more I saw, the more I needed to see.  At the same time, I felt increasingly concerned about the many interconnected threats to our world – such as climate change, pollution of the air, soil, and sea, economic inequality, terrorism, racism and religious bigotry.

Napo River, Ecuador, in the Amazon Rainforest | 2003 | Click to Amazonia Page

Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa | 1997 | Click to South Africa Page

20 to 30 countries

Between 20 and 30 countries, I was in a process of personal realization.

Along with fulfilling my colorful dream of world travel, I had directly encountered appalling acts of deliberate pollution, manufactured poverty, environmental disruption and human suffering.

In every corner of our world, I found a one-sided, undeclared war against nature. I realized that my own jet-set carbon footprint was contributing to the problem, and that I, like almost everyone else, did not know how to be part of the solution.

Johannesburg's South-western township (Soweto) 1997 | Click to South Africa Page

30 to 40 countries

Beyond thirty countries, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. My enthusiasm for travel was tempered by my growing sense of impending doom for our beautiful world. Everywhere I met experts who told me that our world was imperiled, if not already damaged beyond repair, and there seemed to be very little I or anyone else could do about it.

Soweto, South Africa | 1997

Santo Domingo, Ecuador | 2004

Surat Thani, Thailand | 2007

Global issues

I had seen DDT powder scooped into baskets with bare hands in markets in Ecuador, and found gold- and oil-mining companies spilling mercury and lead into Amazon tributaries. I had witnessed organized religion tearing apart a Holy Land.

I had endured air pollution in China so thick that I could feel my life expectancy drop with each breath. I had witnessed violence, sickness and hunger in India and Africa. I had seen sewage, plastics, and nuclear waste dumped into our seas and oceans.

Everywhere I had met people who were concerned about these issues but could offer no solutions.

Cambodia's great lake, the Tonle Sap, in 2007 | Click to Cambodia Page

I began to realize that the troubles of others are also my own. How can anyone be truly happy when others are suffering? How can anyone in the world be safe as long as there are people – or corporations – damaging our health and the global environment?

Mekong Delta, Vietnam | 2014

Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve, China | 2000

KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa | 1997

Burden of knowledge

Travel has taught me that I must, without surrender, be grateful for whatever happens.

Albert Einstein explained that the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is all comprehensible. Those who want to understand the current state and complexity of today's world are destined to carry the burden of that knowledge.

As I confront the geopolitical, economic and environmental issues that are harming our species and our planet, I inevitably feel deeply concerned and accountable. The more I know, the more I owe.

Xian, China | 1995

New Delhi, India | 2001

Coca, Ecuador | 2003

On the flight home from a trip around the world, I gazed through the airplane window, and reflected on my travels. I had explored forty countries and heard the tones of as many languages. I had spent my life savings and learned many things about our world, some of them fantastic, others unsettling and several terrifying.

I had to agree with Shakespeare that the jewel of experience comes at an infinite price.

Mount Everest, June 2000 | Click to Tibet Page

The Jewel of Travel was originally published as Great Expectations, in the 1999 International Honor Society Anthology Nota Bene. The essay also won top honors in the 1999 Hawaii Community College Literary Competition and the 1999 State of Hawaii League for Innovation Literary Competition.

I hope you enjoy my photos and the information in the links provided.

Thank you,

–Steven Martin

On expedition to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in western Amazonia

Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta

EXPLORATORY RESEARCH ON VIETNAM'S MEKONG DELTA

Over the past 10 years living and teaching in Thailand, one of my favorite past times is exploring the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).

The GMS an intriguing mix of countries, brimming with diverse peoples and historical geographies, offering countless and affordable adventures.

Among my most memorable travels are those taken in 2014 and 2015 to the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam.

Friendly faces on the Mekong Delta | Click to Southeast Asian Civilization

Photos on this page link to the Southeast Asian Civilization course.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam | Click to enlarge

Agriculture and Fisheries

Mekong Delta is an expansive floodplain of 40,000 sq. km. populated by over 17 million people across 13 provinces. It is responsible for 60% of Viet Nam’s rice production (90% of this is exported) and 60% of the country’s fruit.

There is a large export industry of fish, and 65% of fishery production is sent to the USA. While there is a considerable fishing fleet working the offshore areas around the Delta, the majority of production is based in aquaculture. For the most part, local peoples eat the small fish and sell the big fish.

Mekong Delta food environment

Other important commodities include coconut products and honey. A burgeoning tourism industry is evident in nearly all eras in the Delta, ranging from individuals to small groups to mass tourism.

Exploratory research on the Mekong Delta

Topography and Land Reclamation

Once reaching Viet Nam, the Mekong splits into two main branches at the Delta. The north branch divides into four distributaries and the south branch into three distributaries.

The Delta consists of hundreds of islands formed over millennia of sedimentary deposits; an untold number of waterways create an exotic and dangerous maze of jungles and swamps.

Land reclamation is evident throughout the Delta, with gravel and dirt-laden barges destined for low-lying properties and canal banks. Farmers also dredge local canals every few years and use the silt to reinforce the sides. Busy barge-based cranes used for large-scale dredging of the main river branches are nearly always in view on the horizon.

The ancient network of rural mangrove-lined canals invite visitors to reflect on the country's enigmatic past, while the new palm-lined highway to Saigon represents the fast lane the country is taking to its future at the heart of the economically vibrant and socially diverse ASEAN community.

Crane loading a barge with gravel in the Delta

Vietnamese barge transporting soil for land reclamation on the Mekong Delta

Faith and Religion

There is a heritage of Spanish, Portuguese, French, and to some degree, American missionary influence, and this is evident in Vietnamese language, culture, architecture and religion. For example, Catholic and other denominational Christian churches speckle the banks of the Delta and constitute as much as 15% of the religious base.

However, 60% of the Delta population follows a type of ancestor worship and this may be attributed to an age-old relationship with Chinese culture.

Faith and religion on the Delta

The Delta Road

The government opened up the Mekong in recent years, completing the ‘Delta Road’, a collaborative effort with the Japanese, and this was engineered in part to keep the Delta’s produce fresh and undamaged, particularly rice, fruit and seafood, when they are transported to Saigon overland.

These new transport networks are key as the traditional floating markets are becoming impractical. Thus, there is an ongoing shift from a water-based trade economy to a land-based export economy.

Historically, there were much smaller human populations in the Delta due to the dangers associated with snake and crocodile-infested swamps.

Traditional Delta transport

The "Delta Road" represents an ongoing shift from a water-based trade economy to a land-based export economy

Environment

Winter is the dry season on the Delta and the rainy period is normally during the summer, although the Delta is indeed south of the typhoon belt which impacts central Viet Nam and the Red River area further north.

The water level is higher during the rainy season, and this ‘wet time’ is utilized for fishing, while the ‘dry time’ is best for vegetables and potatoes. Climate change is evident and local farmers explain that nowadays the seasons are not so distinct.

The biodiversity of the region is still wide-open to exploration and inquiry, with thousands of new species discovered in recent years. However, there is an unfortunate war-torn legacy of ‘agent orange’, the chemical defoliant dropped by American forces upstream of the Delta, and as many as 2 million people are affected by it today.

One of the many canals on the Mekong Delta

The watery world of the Mekong delta, Vietnam

Settlement

The Delta was once part of the Funan (68-550 AD) and Chenla (550-760 AD) empires with ties to early Chinese trade networks, and later saw Champa settlements (associated with central Vietnam) and Khmer settlements (associated with Cambodia). Some Khmer still live in the west of the delta region near Cambodia.

According to my Delta guide, the Khmer never actually left the region; rather they mixed and integrated with the North Vietnamese (i.e., the ‘Kinh’ ethnic group) who migrated to the Delta over time.

The feelings of the North Vietnamese about their Delta settlement are represented in the local music which carries sad tones and lyrics, voicing their homesick emotions.

There was also a significant era of assimilation 300 years ago, when Chinese, Vietnamese and Khmer cultures mixed together.

Personal interview with Sombo Manara | Champa Kingdom

Interview with Prof. Dr. Sombo Manara, a leading expert in Khmer ancient history. The interview took place at the Po Nagar Temple in Nha Trang, Vietnam, a 7th - 12th century Hindu temple and vestige of the once powerful Champa Kingdom.

Cham is an Austronesian language, part of a super-family of languages generally associated with the seafaring peoples of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Visit Chasing Jade: Archaeology and the Batanes Islands Cultural Atlas to learn more about Austronesian prehistory.

Life and settlement on the Mekong Delta

Cultural Stereotypes

Vietnam is polarized by Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south, two sprawling urban and cultural centers with unique cultural attributes.

Stereotypically, the north and central populations distinguish themselves as thinking, planning, hard-working, and saving for the future.

In contrast, and as my Delta guide, Nguyễn Minh Phương, himself from the central region, put it, "The people of the Delta live for today, and are sometimes typecast by their northern counterparts as being reliant on the good weather, having strong physical features, and a sweet palate."

Daily life on the Delta

Life on the Delta Road

Next generation on the Delta

Water color painting for sale on the Delta

Travelers, Traders and Invaders

The Mekong Delta is a beautiful place to visit, an exotic tropical landscape steeped in ancient tradition with modern geographical significance. At 4,350 km, the Mekong is the world’s 12th-longest river, the lifeblood of mainland Southeast Asia – a trans-boundary network known as the ‘Greater Mekong Subregion’ (GMS).

The Mekong derives its name from the Sanskirt word ‘ganga’ after the Ganges River in India, and the toponym evolved in Thai and Laotian languages to ‘Mae Nam Khong’, literally ‘mother water Khong’.

The mouth of the Mekong called to traders, invaders, and great cultures and philosophers from India and China, providing them safe harbor and entry to upstream riches, including Cambodia’s fish-laden lake, the ‘Tonle Sap’, and the Khmer Kingdom at Angkor.

Coined by the French as "Indochina", friends, foods and freedoms await in the mighty Mekong Delta, an eclectic blend of culture, race and religion along Southeast Asia’s greatest of rivers.

Vietnam | Modified from: portal.gms-eoc.org/maps | Click to enlarge

I hope you enjoy my photos and the information in the links provided. If you feel motivated to travel to the Mekong Delta, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

–Steven Martin

Special thanks to my Delta guide, Nguyễn Minh Phương for his time and insight, which helped to make this short article possible.

If you’re traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, he can be reached at: guyenminhphuongjp@gmail.com

Nguyễn Minh Phương, certified Mekong Delta guide

Nguyễn Minh Phương, certified Mekong Delta guide

Pakistan

Pakistan

EMPIRE OF THE SPIRIT | PAKISTAN AND THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION

At 15,397 feet above sea level, the Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved international border crossing in the world, and our ancient, rattling public bus creaked and groaned up to it through spectacular mountain scenery, around hairpin bends with terrifying drops...

Welcome to part II of my Journey to the West, a six-week overland trip from Beijing, China, to Islamabad, Pakistan.

Click on photos to enlarge.

View of Hidden Peak (Gasherbrum I) near the Sino-Pakistani border at sunset | Karakoram Range | 8,080 m/26,510 ft

Physical Map of Pakistan (German version) | Click to enlarge

The Karakoram Highway to Pakistan | Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, Xinjiang, China

Passing through the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous country on the notorious Karakoram Highway (KKH), I spent one night at this final Chinese outpost at 3,090 m/10,140 ft on my Journey to the West. According to the Chinese bus driver, the Pakistan border was an estimated 10 hour drive, depending on the changing conditions of the road.

Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, Xinjiang, China

Tashkurgan | Tajik Man

Tashkurgan | Tajik Woman

Much of the Karakoram Highway was a narrow, rugged track, chiseled out of an unstable complex of different types of rock formed through violent seismic activity and extreme weather. I witnessed massive landslides, ice avalanches, and unpredictable flooding, and these events delayed the two-day crossing from Kashgar, China, several times.

Karakoram Highway | Kashgar, China, to Islamabad, Pakistan

From interpretation signage posted along the way, I learned that the Karakoram Highway was developed by Pakistani and Chinese engineers, and took 20 years and over 1,000 lives to construct, with particular hardship occurring in the remote areas of Pakistani‐controlled Kashmir.

Karakoram Highway Memorial

Indeed, things didn't always go as planned when travelling the Silk Road, a common theme in the journals of ancient Chinese monks, such as Xuan Zang, the who traveled this very route in the mid-seventh century.

Half way to the Pakistan border from Tashkurgan, the bus was forced to stop at a section of road that had been washed out from a flash flood during the night.

In the spirit of the monks and merchants of yesteryear who had experienced great challenges on the Silk Road, I felt it was a great opportunity to get off the bus and get my hands dirty. Fortunately, the road workers allowed me to help them construct the cages of rocks in wire needed to temporarily repair the road so we could pass.

Roadwork on the Karakoram Highway near the Sino-Pakistani border after an overnight flash flood

The Khunjerab Pass | Sino-Pakistani border

At 4,693 m/15,397 ft above sea level, the Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved international border crossing in the world, and our ancient, rattling public bus creaked and groaned up to it through spectacular mountain scenery, around hairpin bends with terrifying drops.

Khunjerab Pass, Sino-Pakistani border crossing | 4,693 m/15,397 ft

The Hunza Valley | Gilgit-Baltistan

The first evening in Pakistan, I arrived in the Hunza Valley with my new Pakistani guide, Iqbal, and driver, Usman (featured image at top of page). Waking up at first light and walking outside, I was stunned by the view of Rakaposhi, towering 7,788 m/25,551 ft above, surrounded by deep blue sky.

Rakaposhi | 27th highest mountain in the world | 7,788 m/25,551 ft

The Hunza is a high-mountain sanctuary fed by glacial streams and known for the longevity of its people. In the morning, I woke to views of snowcapped mountain peaks, melting glaciers, and fertile valleys with apple, apricot, and pear orchards. The headwaters of the fertile Hunza River, rich with minerals from the high glaciers, sparkled on the valley floor, it's waters flowing to join the Indus from Tibet.

Hunza Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan region, Pakistan | Averaging 2,500 m/8,200 ft

Landslides from sedimentary rock, shale, and glacial debris shaken lose from earthquakes characterize the landscape, and it is logical to assume this led to the name Karakoram, Turkish for black gravel, given by early Central Asian traders. Today, K for Karakoram, stands for the second highest mountain in the world, K-2.

My driver, Usman, said to me, with his eyes peeled to the road, “I use both eyes, one for the road, one for falling rocks.”  He suggested buckling my seat belt: “Muslims believe that life is very precious.”

A landslide blocks our travel south | Karakoram Highway | Pakistan

The junction point of three greatest mountain ranges of the world

Following the Gilgit River south, we reached a place that geographers dream about – the  junction point of the three highest mountain ranges in the world.

In the photo below, the ranges are as follows: Himalayas (right), the Karakoram (distant center), and the Hindu Kush (left).

This was also my first glimpse of the Indus River (right) as it emerges from the Tibetan Plateau. The Gilgit River is on the left.

Junction point of three greatest mountain ranges of the world | Himalayas (right), Karakoram (center), and Hindu Kush (left)

Taxila | Archaeological site visit

As described on my Silk Road page, the UNESCO-listed Taxila was one of the most ancient universities in the world, where people from all over Asia came to study medicine, religion, and science. Instruction was available in at least five different languages, and this multicultural environment contributed to the pre-eminence of Taxila as a center of learning by the 5th century BCE.

Taxila, Pakistan | Excavated remains of the ancient Greek city at Sirkap, founded by Bactrian King Demetrius in 190 BCE

At the height of the Maurya Empire in 250 BCE, King Ashoka recognized the significance of Taxila as an international city at the crossroads of Persia, India, and China, and declared it the provincial capital of his empire.

The Jaulian Monastery

The Jaulian Monastery is the treasure of Taxila, an ancient education and art center with preserved stupas depicting Greek, Indian and Chinese cultural images. The site was of special interest to archaeologist Sir John Marshall (discussed below).

A place of ancient pilgrimage, my local Muslim guide compared it to Mecca, "Many people in history made a great journey to reach this location."

Jaulian Monastery | Taxila Archaeological Site, Pakistan

Interview at Jaulian Monastery | Taxila

Stupas at Jaulian Monastery | Taxila

Sir John Marshall (1876-1958)

Any account of the research and excavations at Taxila, and the Indus Valley Civilization sites of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, would be incomplete without mentioning Sir John Marshall, the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1902 to 1928. He was the first person in modern times to recognize the significance of these abandoned cities, and worked extensively to document, protect, and popularize these mysterious ancient sites.

During my site visit at Taxila, I had the opportunity to personally interview the grandson of Basharai Khan, who was Sir John Marshal's personal assistant. Alongside learning about Marshal's fieldwork, I was also fortunate to visit the Taxila museum, which he founded in 1918.

 

Portrait of Sir John Marshall (1876-1958) | Taxila Museum | Source: Hermann Maurer global-geography.org

The works of Sir John Marshall in PDF

John Marshall’s outstanding work is currently online and publicly available at: Archive.org.

Below, I have provided direct links to three relevant books from Sir John Marshall’s legacy.

  • Marshall, J. (ed.) (1931). Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization. | 30Mb
  • Marshall, J. (1951). Taxila: An illustrated account of archaeological excavations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. | 65Mb
  • Marshall, J. (1960). The Buddhist art of Gandhara: the story of the early school, its birth, growth and decline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. | 65Mb

Gandhāra Civilization | Greco-Buddhist art

Taxila was a key site where the ancient Greeks met the Buddhists, a cultural coincidence that occurred at the dawn of Mahāyāna Buddhism and the development of the Gandhāran civilization. Gandhāra reached its zenith during the Kushan period in the 2nd century AD.

Click on the links provided here to view my PDF presentations of Gandhara and Taxila, featuring site visits to the Second City of Sirkap, founded by Demetrius in 190 BCE, and the ruins of Jaulian, a two-thousand-year-old monetary which served as an education center.

Academic Resource Online | Gandhara Sculpture from Pakistan Museums

In 1960, a comprehensive exhibition of Gandharan sculpture was brought to America. Subsequently, sixty-five free-standing and relief sculptures dating from the 2nd -5th centuries A.D. were photographed, catalogued and published as Gandhara Sculpture from Pakistan Museums. The book visually represents the golden age of Gandhara, when the flourishing Buddhist colonies created some of the first representations of the Buddha in human form. Benjamin Rowland, Harvard University,1960

Sakyamuni's First Meeting with a Brahmin | Late 1st century, fine-grained schist, Peshawar Museum

The Indus River Valley Civilization | Harappa

Continuing to travel south from the Taxila archaeological sites, I began to understand what makes the Indus River Valley such a unique area of historical significance, and why the entire subcontinent is named after it. This valley was the cradle of many great Indian cultures, not only Hindu, Jain and Buddhist, but also older and more mysterious cultures whose scripts remain undeciphered.

The Pashupati Seal | Meditating Yogi with horned headdress surrounded by animals | Indus Valley Civilization | Moenjodaro

A day's drive south from Taxila and the capital city of Islamabad, I felt like a time-traveler, heading back thousands of years before the 2000-year-old Gandhara Civilization to experience first-hand the 5000-year-old Harappa archaeological site and the Indus Valley Civilization, an enigmatic slice of ancient history that has profoundly influenced the way people think throughout Asia and the world.

Harappa | Archaeological site visit

Beginning over five thousand years ago, the UNESCO-listed site of Harappa was once one of the world’s most important cities and cultural centers.

Through personal interview with my Pakistani guide, Shafik Malik, he told me a story of a young Sir John Marshall working on a British railroad project in the area:

"Villagers were bringing wheelbarrows loaded with red bricks for use as fill under the railroad tracks, and Marshall, suspecting that they looked unusual, asked where they came from. The villagers told him about a place where there were scores of old bricks spread out all over the land, and no one had idea where they were actually from. Marshall went to investigate..."

Since the discovery and excavation of the site in 1921 by Marshall, Harappa has come to be recognized as one of the oldest and most important civilizations and archaeological sites in the world.

Red bricks form foundations of ancient workshops at Harappa | Indus River Valley Civilization

UNESCO divides Harappa’s history into five key phases:

c. 3300-2800 BCE – Ravi
c. 2800-2600 BCE – Early Harappan
c. 2600-1900 BCE – Harappan
c. 1900-1800 BCE – Transitional
c. 1800-1300 BCE – Late Harappan

5,000-year-old red Harappan bricks | Indus Valley Civilization

Shafik Malik | Pakistani Guide | Harappa Archaeological Site | June 24, 2001

As explained by Mr. Malik and outlined in the interpretation signage at the site, the earliest settlement at Harappa was the Ravi phase, founded on an ancient levee of the river Ravi between 3500 and 3300 BCE.

With more than a decade of experience working at Harappa, I wanted to know more about Malik's personal feelings about the site:

“At 2600 BC the Harappa Civilization is magnificent, a great city center with monumental public buildings, craft areas, bazaars, and connecting trade routes to the world... Small manufactured seals still puzzle us with undeciphered inscriptions… When I think about Harappa, I get a mystic feeling.”

Ravi/Early Harappan Phase 3300-2600 BCE | Click to PDF slides

Archaeological work on the Ravi phase has revealed that these early inhabitants imported stone from what is now Afghanistan and western India, and shells from the Arabian Sea to make beads. They manufactured earthenware vessels and figurines of clay by hand.

Water well and sewage systems at the Harappa archaeological site

Red bricks of Harappa

Locals at Harappa

Pakistan Photo Journal | June 2001

The 15 photos shown below were taken during the drive south from the Sino-Pakistani border to Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.

Welcome to Pakistan | International border police

Karakoram Highway | People's Republic of China & Islamic Republic of Pakistan | 1958-1978

Entering Pakistan en route to the Hunza Valley | Karakoram Highway | Gilgit-Baltistan | View from the bus window

English-made Bedford truck decorated with Pakistani Islamic art

Usman | Pakistani driver and international guide

Pakistani youth | Hunza Valley

Hopper Glacier | Naga Valley | Gilgit-Baltistan

Hunza Valley stream | Gilgit-Baltistan

Upper Indus River Valley | Road of Alexander the Great still visible on the opposite bank above the river

Nanga Parabat | Killer Mountain | Third highest peak in the world

Gem stones for sale at Nanga Parabat

Upper Indus River Valley | Gilgit-Baltistan

4th-8th Century Buddhist rock carvings above the Indus River | Shatial (west of Chilas), upper Indus Valley | Sogdian Iranian Civilization

Crossing the Indus by single-cable chairlift | Shatial

Pakistani kids | A few hours north of Islamabad

Faisal Mosque | Islamabad

Mohenjo Daro 101 | National Geographic 3:14

Thank you for visiting my Pakistan Page.

If you feel motivated to know more about the Silk Road or other Learning Adventures, or would like to arrange for me to give a public talk, please let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

–Steven Martin