Eden in the East – The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia
Stephen Oppenheimer (born 1947) is a British paediatrician, geneticist, and writer. He is a member of Green Templeton College, Oxfordand an honorary fellow of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and carries out and publishes research in the fields of genetics and human prehistory.
Oppenheimer trained in medicine at Oxford and London universities, qualifying in 1971. From 1972 he worked as a clinical paediatrician, mainly in Malaysia, Nepal and Papua New Guinea. He carried out and published clinical research in the areas of nutrition, infectious disease (including malaria), and genetics, focussing on the interactions between nutrition, genetics and infection, in particular ironnutrition, thalassaemia and malaria. From 1979 he moved into medical research and teaching, with positions at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Oxford University, a research centre in Kilifi, Kenya and the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang. He spent three years undertaking fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, studying the effects of iron supplementation on susceptibility to infection. His fieldwork, published in the late 1980s, identified the role of genetic mutation in malarious areas as a result of natural selection due to its protective effect against malaria, and that different genotypes for alpha-thalassaemia traced different migrations out to the Pacific. Following that work, he concentrated on researching the use of unique genetic mutations as markers of ancient migrations.
From 1990 to 1994 Oppenheimer served as chairman and chief of clinical service in the Department of Paediatrics in the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He worked as senior specialist paediatrician in Brunei from 1994 to 1996. He returned to England in 1997, writing the book Eden in the East: the drowned continent of Southeast Asia, published in 1998. The book synthesised work across a range of disciplines, including oceanography, archaeology, linguistics, social anthropology and human genetics. He continued to write books and articles, and began a second career as a researcher and popular-science writer on human prehistory. He worked as consultant on two television documentary series, The Real Eve (Discovery Channel) and Out of Eden (Channel 4), and published a second book, Out of Eden: the Peopling of the World (retitled The Real Eve in USA). This was followed in 2006 by The Origins of the British: a genetic detective story, on the post-glacial peopling of Great Britain and Ireland. In 2009 he was consultant on the BBC TV series The Incredible Human Journey.
Books by Oppenheimer
- Eden in the East. 1999, Phoenix (Orion) ISBN 0-7538-0679-7
- Out of Eden. 2004, Constable and Robinson ISBN 1-84119-894-3 UK title of The Real Eve.
Eden in the East
In his book Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia, published in 1998, Oppenheimer hypothesizes that Eurasianshave southeast Asian origins, citing evidence from a variety of disciplines to make his case: geology, archaeology, genetics, linguistics, and folklore. Using geological evidence, he writes about the rise in ocean levels that accompanied the waning of the ice age—as much as 500 feet—during the period 14,000-7,000 years ago and says that this submerged the continental shelf off the coast of southeast Asia. He, and others, calls this submerged continent Sundaland and cites archaeological evidence for an original culture in this region. The rising ocean levels caused this culture to disperse, and Oppenheimer supports this idea with the above-mentioned evidence from genetics, linguistics, and folklore. He notes, for example, that those cultures in regions whose geology would have led to their being submerged haveflood myths, whereas there are no flood myths in Africa, which because of its lack of a continental shelf, was relatively unaffected by the rising ocean level.
The Real Eve (documentary and US book title) / Out of Eden (UK book title)
Main article: The Real Eve
In 2002, Oppenheimer worked as consultant on a television documentary series, The Real Eve, produced by the American cable TVnetwork the Discovery Channel and directed by Andrew Piddington. The series was known as Where We Came From in the United Kingdom. The “Eve” in the title refers to Mitochondrial Eve, a name used for the most recent common ancestor of all humans in thematrilineal (mother to daughter) line of descent.
Following the series, Oppenheimer published a book on the same theme, originally titled Out of Eden in the UK and republished as The Real Eve in the US. This work, published in 2004, focuses on Oppenheimer’s hypothesis that modern humans emerged from East Africa in a single major exodus numbering no more than a few hundred individuals. This lone group of wanderers, he suggests, became the ancestors of all non-Africans, their descendants having since radiated into a plurality of physical characteristics, languages, ethnicities and cultures as seen today.
Origins of the British
In his 2006 book The Origins of the British, revised in 2007, Oppenheimer argued that neither Anglo-Saxons nor Celts had much impact on the genetics of the inhabitants of the British Isles, and that British ancestry mainly traces back to the Palaeolithic Iberian people, now represented best by Basques, instead. He also argued that the Scandinavian input has been underestimated. He published an introduction to his book in Prospect magazine and answered some of his critics in a further Prospect magazine article in June 2007.
Oppenheimer uses genetic studies to give an insight into the genetic origins of people in the British Isles and speculates on how to match this evidence with documentary, linguistic and archaeological data to give insights into the origins of Britain, the Celts, the Vikings and theEnglish. Oppenheimer uses DNA databases provided by Weale et al., Capelli et al. and Rosser et al. to provide new analyses of the haplotype distributions in both the male and female lines of the populations of Britain and Ireland (as well as Western Europe).
He makes the case that the geography and climate have had an influence on the genetics and culture of Britain, because of coastline changes. These genetic and cultural changes stem from two main zones of contact:
- The Atlantic fringe, mainly from Spain and Portugal, to the western British Isles
- Northern Europe, originally across Doggerland to eastern England and from Scandinavia to northern Scotland
- Simon James (The Atlantic Celts – Ancient People or Modern Invention? ISBN 0299166740)
- Francis Pryor (Britain B.C. : life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans ISBN 0007126921)
- John Collis (The Celts : origins, myths & inventions ISBN 0752429132)
- Colin Renfrew, (Archaeology and Language – The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins ISBN 0521354323)
The work of the geneticist Peter Forster has strongly influenced Oppenheimer’s linguistic theories. He uses the evidence that the Germanic genetic contribution to eastern England originated before the Anglo-Saxon conquest of much of England incursion to suggest that the possibility that some inhabitants of the isle of Britain spoke English well before the so-called “Dark Ages“.
Oppenheimer’s main ideas include:
- The importance of Cunliffe‘s Atlantic routes to the settling of Britain.
- Since much British genetic material dates to the re-settlement of Britain following the ice ages, all subsequent invasions/migrations/immigrations occurred on a relatively small scale and did not replace Britain’s population.
- The origins of Celtic culture lie in southwestern Europe. The Central European ([La Tène culture]) theory for Celtic origins has no basis. Celtic culture arrived in the British Isles before the Iron Age and only involved limited movement of people, mainly into the east of England.
- There are some differences between the male and female origins of the British population, but these are small.
- Some genetic evidence is in support of Renfrew’s theory that Indo-European origins comes with farming.
- Genetic evidence suggests that the division between the West and the East of England does not begin with the Anglo-Saxon invasion but originates with two main routes of genetic flow — one up the Atlantic coast, the other from neighbouring areas of Continental Europe. This happened just after the Last Glacial Maximum. There is a cline between east and west, rather than a sharp division.
- Scandinavian influences, stronger than suspected, may outweigh West Germanic influence.
- A genetic difference exists between the Saxon areas of England and the Anglian areas. (Oppenheimer suggests that the so-called Anglo-Saxon invasion actually mostly consisted of an Anglian incursion.)
- English being native to east Britain might explain the lack of Celtic influence on early English and the genetic split between East and West.
10. Classical sources differentiate between Gallic/Celtic and Belgae. Sources state that some of the (northern) Belgae have a German origin. Various archaeological and linguistic evidence make for a weaker case for Celtic presence in Belgium and Eastern England than in Gallic/Celtic or western Britain.
In Origins of the British (2006), Stephen Oppenheimer states (pages 375 and 378):
“By far the majority of male gene types in the British Isles derive from Iberia (Spain and Portugal), ranging from a low of 59% in Fakenham, Norfolk to highs of 96% in Llangefni, north Wales and 93% Castlerea, Ireland. On average only 30% of gene types in England derive from north-west Europe. Even without dating the earlier waves of north-west European immigration, this invalidates the Anglo-Saxon wipeout theory…”
“…75-95% of British Isles (genetic) matches derive from Iberia… Ireland, coastal Wales, and central and west-coast Scotland are almost entirely made up from Iberian founders, while the rest of the non-English parts of the British Isles have similarly high rates. England has rather lower rates of Iberian types with marked heterogeneity, but no English sample has less than 58% of Iberian samples…”
In page 367 Oppenheimer states in relation to Zoë H Rosser’s pan-European genetic distance map:
“In Rosser’s work, the closest population to the Basques is in Cornwall, followed closely by Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England, Spain, Belgium, Portugal and then northern France.”
He reports work on linguistics by Forster and Toth which suggests that Indo-European languages began to fragment some 10,000 years ago (at the end of the Ice Age). Oppenheimer claims that Celtic split from Indo-European earlier than previously suspected, some 6000 years ago, while English split from Germanic before the Roman period, see Forster, Polzin and Rohl.
- Rosser Z (and others), 2000. Y chromosome diversity in Europe. American Journal of Human Genetics 67, 1526.
- Foster P and Toth A, 2003. Towards a phylogenic chronology of ancient Gaulish, Celtic and Indo-European. Proc of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 100, 9079.
- Forster P, Polzin T and Rohl A, 2006. “Evolution of English basic vocabulary within the network of Germanic languages” in Forster and Renfrew (eds) “Phylogenic Methods and the Prehistory of Languages (McDonald Institute).
- ^ a b University of Oxford: Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology: Stephen Oppenheimer: Summary of main research interests. Accessed 18 November 2009.
- ^ Stephen Oppenheimer, “Myths of British ancestry”, Prospect, October 2006, accessed 23 August 2008.
- ^ Stephen Oppenheimer, “Myths of British ancestry revisited”, Prospect, June 2007, accessed 23 August 2008.
- James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, earliest philosopher to formulate the one-source theory
- Jared Diamond
- Robert A. Foley
- Toomas Kivisild
- Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
- Chris Stringer
- Bryan Sykes
- University of Oxford: Stephen Oppenheimer: Summary of main research interests
- “Journey of Mankind”
- Review of Oppenheimer’s Eden in the East
- “Look who was talking”, Article by Stephen Oppenheimer, The Guardian, August 7, 2003
- “Fast trains, slow boats, and the ancestry of the Polynesian islanders”, link to an article by Stephen Oppenheimer & Martin Richards, Science Progress, September 22 2001
- Discovery Program Q&A with Stephen Oppenheimer on the “Real Eve”
- “Myths of British ancestry”, Article by Stephen Oppenheimer, Prospect Magazine, October 2006
- New York Times article: “A United Kingdom? Maybe”
An Atlantis in the Indian Ocean
(Review of Stephen Oppenheimer’s Eden in the East)
One of the many insulting epithets thrown at AIT disbelievers is that they are no better than “Atlantis freaks”. Actually, this is not entirely untrue. Some AIT skeptics who have applied their minds to reconstructing ancient history, have indeed thought of centres of human habitation in locations now well below sea-level. When Proto-Indo-European was spoken, the sea level was still recovering from the low point it had reached during the Ice Age, about 100 metres lower than the present level. It was in the period of roughly twelve to seven thousand years ago that the icecaps melted and replenished the seas, so that numerous low-lying villages had to be abandoned.
After all, it is a safe bet that more than half of mankind lived in the zone of less than 100 m above sea level. In the context of the present debate on global warming, it is said that a rise in sea level of just one metre would be an immense catastrophe for countries like Bangla Desh or the Netherlands. The Maledives would completely disappear with a rise of only a few metres. But more importantly, most big population centres today are located just above sea level: Tokyo, Shanghai, Kolkata, Mumbai, London, New York, Los Angeles etc. If the sea level would rise 100 m, most population centres including entire countries would become a sunken continent, a very real Atlantis. Consequently, there is nothing far-fetched in assuming the existence of population centres and cultures, 10 or 15 thousand years ago, in what are now submarine locations on the continental shelf outside our coastlines.
In a recent book, Eden in the East: the Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia (Phoenix paperback, London 1999 (1998)), Stephen Oppenheimer has focused on one such part of the continental shelf: the region between Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Taiwan, which was largely inhabitable during the Ice Age. Thinking that this was then the most advanced centre of civilization, he calls it Eden, the Biblical name of Paradise (from Sumerian edin, “alluvial plain”), because West-Asian sources including the Bible do locate the origin of mankind or at least of civilization in the East. In some cases, as in Sumerian references, this “East” is clearly the pre-Harappan and Harappan culture, but even more easterly countries seem to be involved.
Oppenheimer is a medical doctor who has lived in Southeast Asia for decades. He is clearly influenced by Marxism, e.g. where he dismisses religion as a means to “control other people’s labour”, with explicit reference to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (p.483). His book is based on solid scientific research (genetic, anthropological, linguistic and archaeological), and is in that respect very different from the numerous Atlantis books which draw on “revelations” and “channeling”.
The most airy type of evidence, in its massiveness nonetheless quite compelling, is comparative mythology: numerous cultures, and especialy those in the Asia-Pacific zone, have highly parallel myths of one or more floods. These are not opaque allusions to Freudian events in the subconscious but plainly historical references to the catastrophic moments in the otherwise long-drawn-out rise of the sea level after the Ice Age. For, indeed, this rise was not a continuous process but took place with occasional spurts, wiping out entire tribes living near the coast. The last such sudden rise took place ca. 5500 BC, after which the sea level fell back a few metres to the present level.
According to Oppenheimer, the Southeast-Asian Atlantis, provisionally called Sundaland because it now is the Sunda shelf, was the world leader in the Neolithic Revolution (start of agriculture), using stones for grinding wild grains as early as 24,000 ago, more than ten thousand years older than in Egypt or Palestine. Before and especially during the gradual flooding of their lowland, the Sundalanders spread out to neighbouring lands: the Asian mainland including China, India and Mesopotamia, and the island world from Madagascar to the Philippines and New Guinea, whence they later colonized Polynesia as far as Easter Island, Hawaii and New Zealand.
Oppenheimer aligns with the archaeologists against the linguists in the controversy about the homeland of the Austronesian language family (Malay, Tagalog, Maori, Malgasy etc.): he locates it in Sundaland and its upper regions which now make up the coasts of the Southeast-Asian countries, whereas most linguists maintain that southern China was the land of origin. Part of the argument concerns chronology: Oppenheimer proposes a higher chronology than Peter Bellwood and other out-of-China theorists. My experience with IE studies makes me favour a higher chronology, for new findings (e.g. that “pre-IE” peoples like the Pelasgians and the Etruscans, not to speak of the Harappans, turn out to have been earlier “Aryan” settlers) have consistently been pushing the date of the fragmentation of PIE back into the past.
Another reason for not relying too much on the theories of the linguists is that Austronesian linguistics is a very demanding field, comprising the study of hundreds of small languages most of which have no literature, so the number of genuine experts is far smaller than in the case of IE, and even in the latter case linguists are nowhere near a consensus on the homeland question. Linguistic evidence is very soft evidence, and usually the data admit of more than one historical reconstruction, so I don’t think there is any compelling evidence against a Sundaland homeland hypothesis. Conversely, archaeological and genetic evidence in favour of the spread of the Austronesian-speaking populations from Sundaland seems to be sufficient.
It is quite certain that some of these Austronesians must have landed in India, some on their way to Madagascar, some to stay and mix with the natives. Hence the presence of some Austronesian words in Indian languages of all families, most prominently ayi/bayi, “mother” (as in the Marathi girls’ names Tarabai, Lakshmi-bai etc.), or words for “bamboo”, “fruit”, “honey”. More spectacularly, linguists like Isidore Dyen have discerned a considerable common vocabulary in the core lexicon of Austronesian and Indo-European, including pronouns, numerals (e.g. Malay dva, “two”) and terms for the elements. Oppenheimer doesn’t go into this question, but diehard invasionists might use his findings to suggest an Aryan invasion into India not from the northwest, but from the southeast.
But he does mention the legend of Manu Vaivasvata saving his company from the flood and sailing up the rivers of India to settle high and dry in Saptasindhu. Clearly, the origins of Vedic civilization are related to the post-Glacial flood, probably the single biggest migration trigger in human history.
The Tamils have a tradition that their poets’ academy or Sangam existed for ten thousand years, and that its seat (along with the entire Tamil capital) had to be moved thrice because of the rising sea level. They also believe that their country once stretched far to the south, including Sri Lanka and the Maledives, a lost Tamil continent called Kumarikhandam. If these legends turn out to match the geological evidence quite neatly, our academics would be wrong to dismiss them as figments of the imagination. But the Indian or Kumarikhandam counterpart to Oppenheimer’s book on Sundaland has yet to be written. This indeed is probably the most important practical conclusion to be drawn from this book: extend India’s history by thousands of years with the exploration of now-submarine population centres.
Another language family originating in some part of Sundaland was Austro-Asiatic, which includes the Mon-Khmer languages in Indochina (its demographic point of gravity being Vietnam) but also Nicobarese and the Munda languages of Chotanagpur, at one time possibly spoken throughout the Ganga basin. It is the Mundas who brought rice cultivation from Southeast Asia to the Ganga basin, whence it reached the Indus Valley towards the end of the Harappan age (ca. 2300 BC). In this connection, it is worth noting that Oppenheimer confirms that “barley cultivation was developed in the Indus Valley” (p.19), barley being the favourite crop of the Vedic Aryans (yava). Unlike the Mundas who brought rice cultivation from eastern India and ultimately from Southeast Asia to northwestern India, and unlike the Indo-European Kurgan people whose invasion into Europe can be followed by means of traces of the crops they imported (esp. millet), the Vedic Aryans simply used the native produce. This doesn’t prove but certainly supports the suspicion that the Aryans were native to the Indus Valley.
Concerning the political polemic, the usual claim that the caste system with its sharp discrimination was instituted by the invading Aryans to entrench their supremacy is countered by the finding that even the most isolated tribes on India’s hills turn out to have strict endogamy rules, often guarded with more severe punishments for inter-tribal love affairs than exist in Sanskritic-Hindu society. Here, Oppenheimer confirms that in the Austro-Asiatic and Austrone-sian tribal societies, where many of India’s tribals originate, inequality is deeply entrenched: “Yet the class structure which cripples Britain more than any other European state, is as nothing compared with the stratified hierarchies in Austronesian traditional societies from Madagascar through Bali to Samoa. (…) This consciousness of rank is thus clearly not something that was only picked up by Austronesian societies from later Indian influence.” (p.484) Social hierarchy is not a racialist imposition by the Aryans, but a near-universal phenomenon especially pronounced among Indo-Pacific societies including most non-Aryan populations.
Stephen Oppenheimer makes a very detailed and very strong case for the importance of the culture of sunken Sundaland for the later cultures in the wide surroundings. India too certainly benefited of certain achievements imported from there. What is yet missing is a similar study for the equally important and likewise neglected culture of the sunken lands outside India’s coast.
© Dr. Koenraad Elst, 2002.