Did Vikings Really Hail From the Craggy Caucasus?

A disputed Norse origin theory finds a foothold in Azerbaijan.
Kiş, Azerbaijan, 41°14'56" N, 47°11'36" E

Paul Salopek is walking the global trail of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age. His continuous 21,000-mile journey is recorded in these dispatches.

It is freezing in the foothills of the Greater Caucasus range. Rufat Gojayev, my Azerbaijani walking guide, leans into the cold sunlight. He directs his tireless steps towards Kiş.

What is Kiş?

Kiş is a remote mountain village that has preserved what may be the oldest Christian church in Azerbaijan, and perhaps in the whole region: a temple founded, according to local legend, in the first century A.D. Its walls are built of pale weathered stone. ...

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Photograph by Paul Salopek

Blink: Silk Road Ghosts

A chamber of spectral faces in Azerbaijan
Sheki, Azerbaijan, 41°12'13" N, 47°11'47" E

Women commissars from the Soviet era. Strangely moving—a stray echo from a vanished empire. Ethnographic museum.

Blink is a regular photo feature capturing a random moment along the 21,000-mile trail of the "Out of Eden Walk."

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Blink: New Light on Eurasian Prehistory

From spears to electricity in the Caucasus
Sheki, Azerbaijan, 41°12'13" N, 47°11'47" E

The people I’m following. Dimly lit ethnographic museum as mausoleum.

Blink is a regular photo feature capturing a random moment along the 21,000-mile trail of the "Out of Eden Walk."

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Blink: Fish-eyed in Azerbaijan

Interspecies encounter in the Caucasus
Near Sheki, Azerbaijan, 41°7'20" N, 47°15'23" E

Trekking 20 miles a day requires taking about 40,000 footsteps. Each footfall traverses a new world—a planet unveiled roughly 30 inches at a time. In this way, walking becomes an act of micro-discovery.

Starting today, we begin regularly sharing these moments of visual exploration along the 21,000-mile-long “Out of Eden Walk” trail. Found objects. Spontaneous encounters. Moments of lightness and weight. Everything is game. We are calling this feature “Blink”: An instant captured and stored away without breaking stride.

In this case, it was trout set out for inspection—for sale. But the glass tank sat atop a roadside table as if the fish were themselves the observers of humankind. Studying ...

Composite photograph by Paul Salopek

Milestone: Rush Hour in Small-Town Azerbaijan

This 100-mile pause along the trail reveals our world in profound transition.
Gabala, Azerbaijan, 40°58'56" N, 47°50'42" E

Forty thousand years ago, the first bands of anatomically modern Homo sapiens roamed through this part of the Caucasus, inching toward an Asian continent undiscovered by the human mind. A thousand years ago, camel and horse caravans carrying precious goods from Asia to Anatolia and Europe curled around these rugged foothills of the Greater Caucasus range. And on a recent winter morning, the bustle of globalized culture—in the form of cars, oil pipelines, instant digital communications, and the trappings of modern tourism—stirred a haze of . . . antique wood-fire smoke.

What next?

View Milestone 31

Milestones are regular multimedia recordings taken every ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Cats, Dogs, and Azerbaijan

Walking through the Caucasus with an iron man—and dog whisperer.
Near Balakan, Azerbaijan, 41°40'30" N, 46°27'57" E

“A storm is coming. Take care of it, Rufat.”


“Too much asphalt. Take care of it Rufat.”


We are walking, the forever obliging Rufat Gojayev and I, across Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan: a small but affluent petroleum state hemmed between empires, civilizations, continents. Between Europe and Asia. Between Russia and Iran. It is the size of Indiana. Secular Islamic (with pockets of Jews and Orthodox Georgians). A country of high, snowcapped peaks. Of oak forests. Of semiarid grasslands. Of mud volcanoes and pomegranates that induce bliss. And a booming capital city, Baku, that aspires to be a new Dubai on the Caspian Sea.

At the border: a new world.

The rustic, handmade landscape of ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Goodbye to Georgia

A global walk straggles, reluctantly, out of the heart of the Caucasus.
Near the Lagodekhi border crossing, Georgia, 41°47'35" N, 46°18'31" E

You roll down a high snowy mountain into a country you never expected to be in.

It is a crossroads. It is a cul de sac. It produces poets. It is home to mass murderers. It invented wine. You have read one good book about it in English.

Two weeks in, you encounter the author of the book. She is visiting, by chance, from Paris. The bars are closing. It is 3:30 a.m. She sways in the middle of a cobbled street, holding up a man: a colleague, a local scribe. They weep into each other’s shoulders—for friends dead in the Caucasus mountain range, for the shared ...

Composite photograph by Paul Salopek

Milestone: 3,000 Air Miles From Africa—30 Inches at a Time

In southern Georgia, a global walk teeters near its ninth border.
Lagodekhi, Georgia, 41°47'32" N, 46°14'28" E

Ethiopia… Djibouti… Saudi Arabia… Jordan… the Palestinian Territories… Israel… Cyprus (south and north)… Turkey… the Republic of Georgia… and now, Azerbaijan on the horizon.

I reach my 30th Milestone—the latest recorded storytelling pause, every 100 direct-line miles—along the crooked pathway of the “Out of Eden Walk.” There will be hundreds of such panoramas logged on this immensely long foot journey to the last corner of the discovered world: to Tierra del Fuego.

I peer around. A muddy river bottom field in the Caucasus. Grass so green it burns out the eyes. The ramparts of a distant mountain range, shining with the first winter snow. New friends, a Turk and ...

Photograph by Lela Mepharishvili

Treasure of the Caucasus

In Georgia, when a prehistoric gold mine is pitted against jobs—who wins?
Kazreti, Georgia, 41°22'4" N, 44°23'44" E

“Ah, as long as there's no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow... that's when the trouble starts.” –The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

We walk into Kazreti town.

Houses of stone. Tin roofs. Narrow lanes of black mud. Cracked and ugly apartment blocks of Soviet vintage. “Three-five-nines,” explains my walking guide, Dima Bit-Suleiman. “Under the Russians, you lived in buildings with a standardized number of floors. Three. Five. Nine.”

It is hard to believe: Here is the El Dorado—the Klondike, the pot of gold, the sparkling treasure—of the Republic of Georgia.

Kazreti is a company town. A Russian gold mining ...

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Mapping Police Stops on a World Walk

Authorities take an interest—for the 43rd time—in a global foot journey.
Near Lemshveniera, Georgia, 41°28'21" N, 45°10'19" E

We live in a motorized world.

When you traverse continents on foot, this becomes painfully obvious in the utter subjugation of the human landscape to the rubber wheel, to our automobiles.

Space is parsed, diced, scissored, and torn into unnaturally straight lines (highways) and into right angles (streets). We lose track of the truly vast scale of our homes—our towns, our provinces, our countries—because our brains have atrophied, grown flabby, through unearned speed. (Twitch your right ankle muscle, and the accelerator pedal underfoot annihilates miles, hours.) Even more unnerving: The oldest, most natural, form of locomotion in the human experience—walking—often elicits suspicion in motorized societies. To be ...