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Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia Paperback – July 1, 1999
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Top Customer Reviews
Human beings (homo sapiens) have been around for some 100,000 years, give or take. Until about six or seven thousand years ago, after the end of the most recent ice age, humans were a bunch of wandering hunter-gatherers. They made some great cave paintings, but other than that and a few gnawed bones, they made nothing and left nothing behind. Then, when the ice age ended, they spontaneously dropped their fur cloaks, stopped hunting woolly mammoths and invented agriculture, the wheel, cuneiform, beer, and everything else that makes up civilization.
The problem with this picture, of course, is that the ice age didn't cover the entire earth with ice -- just some of the parts we live on now. And because there was so much more ice, there was less water, and sea levels were some 100-odd meters lower than at present.
So all the best land, the fertile, coastal land, during the ice age -- the era immediately preceeding the first great civilizations of the near easy -- is now underwater.
In _Eden in the East_, Oppenheimer focuses on the great Sunda Shelf in southeast Asia, which in the last ice age was a continent-sized land mass (now sometimes called "Sundaland"). His thesis is that the great civilizations of the near east did not spring whole cloth from the soil, but were founded, or informed, or guided, by refugees from the east, refugees fleeing the great destruction of their homeland with the submergence of the Sunda Shelf.
He argues for his thesis on the basis of genetic, linguistic and mythological studies, all appearing to show a diffusion of culture and people from some prehistoric Sundaland home. The arguments are varied and interesting, maybe even compelling. Certainly they are worth reading.
But they are also very difficult to read. This is a dense book, almost five hundred pages in the edition I have and written in a fairly dry, scholarly tone. So read it, but be warned.
If you're interested in the argument that human prehistory is to be sought in the lands that sank beneath the waves at the end of the last ice age, check out Graham Hancock's book _Underworld_ (already published here in the UK and coming to America soon). Hancock does not focus exclusively on Sundaland, but his arguments and evidences are complementary to those adduced by Oppenheimer. Hancock is less scholarly and more chronological in his approach; _Underworld_ is all first person and very readable.
I am not really qualified to argue with Oppenheimer's analyses; then again, the author is himself a pediatrician with no apparent formal training in linguistics, genetics, or anthropology. Be that as it may, I found his ideas highly intriguing, and a reading of this book reveals him to be completely unlike most of the recent spate of speculative (and very silly) pseudoarchaeologists, concerned as they are with finding Atlantis or some other vision of a long-lost but highly advanced ancient civilization. Unlike the "work" of Rand Flem-Ath or Graham Hancock, what is presented here at least seems reasonable and worthy of intelligent debate. Not the least of the reasons for this is the fact that Oppenheimer is arguing for the existence of an influential neolithic culture, not an enlightened antediluvian civilization. Much of what he argues could still be wrong, and probably is, but at least something interesting might come of the discussion.
The drawbacks of this book are mostly editorial: Oppenheimer is not a gifted writer, and the prose is sometimes tortured enough to give pause. Additionally, the book as a whole, especially the second half dealing with comparative mythology, is entirely too long. I found myself nearly nodding off during the recitations of various "dying-and-rising-tree-god" myths from around the islands of southeast Asia. Beyond this, little attention seems to be paid to the provenance of the many myths recounted in this book; one wonders if the "warring brothers" (Cain and Abel) or Adam and Eve stories in southeast Asia could not have been introduced by Christian missionaries, despite Oppenheimer's protestations. Overall, though, this is a book worth reading, or at least skimming.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
writing is clear with a truthful ring to it.
Recommended to anyone interested in a take on a different prehistoric past from what is...Read more