EDEN IN THE EAST by Stephen Oppenheimer


The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia
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In an exhaustively researched and creatively argued reassessment of mankind’s origins, British physician Oppenheimer, an expert in tropical pediatrics, contends that the now-submerged area of Southeast Asia was the cradle of ancient civilization. From time to time, scholars from various disciplines have argued for the existence of a vastly old “founder civilization.” Among the most famous was Charles Hapgood, who based his theory of a lost seafaring civilization on his analysis of the famous 16th-century “Piri Re’is” maps of the Antarctic land mass. In this tradition, Oppenheimer blends evidence from geology, genetics, linguistics, archaeology, and anthropology to argue persuasively that such a civilization existed on a submerged land mass in Southeast Asia, which geologists call the Sunda shelf. Pointing to geological evidence for the submersion of the shelf by abrupt rises in the sea level about 8,000 years ago, Oppenheimer contends that the coastal cultures of Southeast Asia were drowned by a great flood, reflected in flood mythologies scattered from the ancient Middle East (such as the biblical story of Noah) to Australia and the Americas. According to the author, tantalizing archaeological evidence exists of settlements under a “silt curtain” left by the sea floods in drowned coastal regions from Southeast Asia to the Middle East, while linguistic markers indicate that languages spread from Southeast Asia to Australia and the Pacific. The shared flood story is one striking example of similar Eurasian myths according to the author; the ancient Middle East and Asia share other myth typologies, conspicuously including creation and Cain and Abel myths, which point to common origins in a progenitor culture. Absorbing, meticulously researched, limpidly written, and authoritative: should be regarded as a groundbreaking study of the remote past of Southeast Asia, and of civilization itself.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-297-81816-3
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999