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Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia Paperback – July 1, 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

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. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 575 pages
  • Publisher: Orion Publishing (July 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753806797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753806791
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #815,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
The beginning of human civilization as you learned it in school goes like this:
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.
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Format: Paperback
The central theme of "Eden in the East" is derived from the fact that island southeast Asia, or more correctly the now mostly submerged Sunda shelf, was actually an extensive subcontinent, comparable in size to India, during the last Ice Age. Oppenheimer summarizes one current understanding of how the Ice Age ended--that is, not slowly, but in three quite dramatic and rapid melts that resulted in severe flooding and perhaps even substantial seismic activity and tsunamis. Thus, the Sunda subcontinent was subjected to a series of horrendous cataclysms, the last one occurring circa 8000-7000 B.C. After this introduction to the climatic facts of the case, the first half of the book is devoted to an examination of genetic and linguistic evidence, or rather to Oppenheimer's own re-examination of this evidence, with the conclusion that Ice Age Sundaland harbored a thriving neolithic culture that dispersed throughout the Pacific and into most of Eurasia subsequent to its flooding, and thus that much of Western civilization can be expected to be derived, or at least influenced, by this antediluvian culture. The second half of the book is entirely concerned with a comparative analysis of several myths that exist in recognizable forms throughout most of the world, including Noah's flood, creation myths, Cain and Abel, and the dying god who is resurrected. Again, Oppenheimer argues that the evidence indicates an origin for each of these basic myths in neolithic southeast Asia.
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.
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Stephen Oppenheimer is the first author to treat this subject in an extensive manner using both scientific evidence and comparative mythology. He brings together a wide range of complimentary fields to support his theory on the rise of Southeast Asian during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. A must read for those interested in new historical perspectives.
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Format: Paperback
I can start by saying that this was one of the most difficult books I have ever read. It is thick, dense and full of conceptual data that are hard to reconcile. I feel I will need to read it again at some point to try and make better sense of it. But at close to 500 pages that won't happen soon. I am hoping his theories will appear in a more readable book.

If you've ever read Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki, he refutes it and suggest the opposite. If you have come to the conclusion that biblical frames of thought, such as Cain and Abel, were unique to the west, think again. If you thought Southeast Asia is and has always been a backwater region, wrong. The latter aspect, that ideas have flowed from east to west and particularly from Southeast Asia, rather than focusing on India or China, is the best part of his message in this book. He really, and I mean really, made me think a lot about what I have learned about the origins of civilization in the past. This book preceded most of the books in recent years that focus on Asia's past greatness so it seems less caught up in all that. Of course, he probably wrote it while Southeast Asia was on its dramatic rise in the mid 1990s, soon to fall precipitously.

He is a doctor so his field studies of sickle cell anemia (known as resistant to malaria) in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in Southeast Asia triggered his ideas. Further his use of archaeological evidence, linguistics and mythical comparison provide provocative, if often difficult to follow, ideas on how the people, technology and ideas of Southeast Asia have fit into the history of Western thought and traditions.
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