Garden of Eden–Found! Again!

It’s not every day that serious archaeologists make the Yahoo! news. Usually they get scooped by flashier pretenders, like those who claim to have found Noah’s Ark. So I was excited to read that a legitimate British scientist named Jeffrey Rose had a headline-worthy theory: “Veiled beneath the Persian Gulf, a once-fertile landmass may have supported some of the earliest humans outside Africa some 75,000 to 100,000 years ago, a new review of research suggests.”  That’s right: somewhere below southern Iraq, the traditional site of the Bible’s Garden of Eden, people may have lived a long, long, time ago. What’s that siren-like noise in your ear? Your Eden-seeking alarm is going off? Well, mine too.  Exotic as it may sound, this theory is eerily similar to one espoused by archaeologist Juris Zarins in the pages of Smithsonian magazine in the late 1980s, one that I explore in the last chapter of my book on Eden-seeking.  What did Professor Zarins think of this interloper? I contacted Zarins, hoping for a fight, and was both relieved and disappointed to find that he was one of the experts called upon to respond to Rose’s original article, in the December issue of Current Archaeology. Ah, academia: so much more collegial than the dog-eat-dog battle I was trying to set up.  Zarins calls Rose’s work “a fine synthesis” of stuff he already knew, and urges Rose not to treat the ancient Sumerian literature from that part of the world as merely anecdotal.

“Middle Holocene Gulf archaeology and the origins of the
enigmatic Sumerians must center on the excavations under-
taken at Eridu, the town in which the Sumerians originated
and created civilization. Eridu is situated on a typical large
northeast Arabian lake of the type cited above and on the
western edge of the Wadi Batin delta entering the South Mes-
opotamian trough. This lake was undoubtedly the Sumerian
“waters of the deep,” or abzu (Green 1975). Excavations in
the middle twentieth century provided a very long ‘Ubaid
sequence of domestic and religious architecture beginning by
ca. 5500/5000 BC (Safar, Mustafa, and Lloyd 1981).”
Those enigmatic Sumerians are the ones who gave us so much of the original material for the Old Testament, which is why their origins have at least a passing connection to the ongoing search for the Garden of Eden.  In his response to his commenters, Jeffrey Rose is gracious, and recognizes his work’s connection to a myth that is the Siamese twin to the Garden of Eden story, the story of the Great Flood:
“In regard to the place of the Near Eastern deluge myth
in this discussion, I agree with Bailey insofar that it should
be relegated to anecdotal. However, I do not think we should
dismiss its relevance outright. While it is not valid to start
with the premise that the ubiquitous flood story might be
rooted in an actual event, it is scientifically permissible to
switch the question around and ask whether marine incursion
into the Gulf basin impacted the development of local folk-
lores, particularly given that the population living along
the northern coast became fully literate within three millennia of
the final inundation. During the last phase of postglacial
flooding, the shoreline was ingressing at a pace of multiple
kilometers per generation; therefore, it is reasonable to sup-
pose this would have left an impression on incipient sedentary
communities (trying to) settle along the rapidly advancing
shoreline. Epigraphic evidence suggests this was indeed the
case, with the oldest flood accounts impressed on Ur III clay
tablets from Lower Mesopotamia, followed by a virtually un-
broken chain of transmission through Akkadian, Babylonian,
Hebrew, and Qur’anic iterations. In the words of Douglas
Adams, “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we
have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small
aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands” (Adams 1987.)
We have a theory of origins, we have a theory of the destruction of those origins, together we have a story of Eden.

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