By Dora Jane Hamblin
By using an interdisciplinary approach, archaeologist Juris Zarins believes he's found it--and can pinpoint it for us. The author, a frequent contributor, met Dr. Zarins and his Eden theory when writing of Saudi archaeology (September 1983) and has followed his work since.
"And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed" (Genesis 2:8). Then the majestic words become quite specific: "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel [Tigris]: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates" (Genesis 2:10-14).
But where now are the Pison and the Gihon? And where, if indeed it existed as a geographically specific place, was the Garden of Eden? Theologians, historians, ordinary inquisitive people and men of science have tried for centuries to figure it out. Eden has been "located" in as many diverse areas as has lost Atlantis. Some early Christian fathers and late classical authors suggested it could lie in Mongolia or India or Ethiopia. They based their theories quite sensibly on the known antiquity of those regions, and on the notion that the mysterious Pison and Gihon were to be associated with those other two great rivers of the ancient world, the Nile and the Ganges.
The area thought to be the Garden of Eden, which was flooded when Gulf waters arose, is shown in green.
Yellow areas of Bahrain and Arabian coast represent Dilmun, paradise land of Ubaidians and Sumerians
Another favorite locale for the Garden had been Turkey, because both the Tigris and the Euphrates rise in the mountains there, and because Mount Ararat, where Noah's Ark came to rest, is there. In the past hundred years. since the discovery of ancient civilizations in modern Iraq, scholars have leaned toward the Tigris-Euphrates valley in general, and to the sites of southern Sumer, about 150 miles north of the present head of the Persian Gulf, in particular (map, above).
To this southern Sumerian theory Dr. Juris Zarins, of Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, would murmur: "You're getting warmer. For Dr. Zarins, who has spent seven years working out his own hypothesis, believes that the Garden of Eden lies presently under the waters of the Persian Gulf, and he further believes that the story of Adam and Eve in-and especially out-of the Garden is a highly condensed and evocative account of perhaps the greatest revolution that ever shook mankind: the shift from hunting-gathering to agriculture.
No single scholarly discipline will suffice to cover the long, intricate road Zarins has followed to arrive at his theory. He began, as many another researcher has, with the simple Biblical account, which "I read forward and backward, over and over again." To this he added the unfolding archaeology of Saudi Arabia (SMITHSONIAN, September 1983), where he spent his field time for more than a decade. Next he consulted the sciences of geology, hydrology and linguistics from a handful of brilliant 20th-century scholars and, finally, Space Age technology in the form of LANDSAT space images.
It is a tale of rich complexity, beginning 30 millennia before the birth of Christ. Of climatic shifts from moist to arid to moist, with consequent migrations eddying back and forth across, and up and down the Middle East. And of myriad peoples. There were hunter-gatherers whom agriculturists displaced. There were prehistoric Ubaidians who built cities, Sumerians who invented writing and the Assyrians who absorbed Sumer's writing as well as its legend of a luxuriantly lovely land, an Eden called Dilmun. Finally there were Kashshites in Mesopotamia, contemporaries of the Israelites then forming the state of Israel.
An endless search for food
There are two crucial if approximate dates in reconstruction. The first is about 30,000 B.C., with the transition from Neanderthal to modern Man. This, some anthropologists believe, took place along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas and in Iraq. At that time the Great Ice Age still held most of Eurasia in its grip, and it caused the sea levels to fall by 400 feet so that what is now the Persian Gulf was dry land, all the way to the Strait of Hormuz. It was irrigated not only by the still-existing Tigris and Euphrates but also by the Gihon, the Pison and their tributaries from the Arabian peninsula and from Iran. It seems reasonable that technologically primitive but modern Mm, in his endless search for food, would have located the considerable natural paradise that presented itself in the area where the Gulf now lies.
But Eden wasn't born then. That came, Zarins believes, about 6000 B.C. In between 30,000 and 6000 B.C., the climate varied. From 15,000 B.C., rainfall diminished drastically. Faced with increasing aridity, the Paleolithic population retreated, some as far as the area known to us as the "Fertile Crescent" (north along the Tigris and Euphrates, westward toward the moist Mediterranean coast, south to the Nile), and also eastward to the Indus River valley. Others, perhaps wearied by the long trek, made do with the more austere conditions of central Arabia and continued foraging as best they could.
Then, at about 6000 to 5000 B.C., following a long arid stretch, came a period called the Neolithic Wet Phase when rains returned to the Gulf region. The reaches of eastern and northeastern Saudi Arabia and southwestern Iran became green and fertile again. Foraging populations came back to where the four rivers now ran full, and there was rainfall on the intervening plains. Animal bones indicate that in this period Arabia had abundant game. Thousands of stone tools suggest intensive, if seasonal, human occupation around now dry lakes and rivers. These tools are found even in the Rub al-Khali or Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. And so about 6000 to 5000 B.C. the land was again a paradise on Earth, provided by a bountiful nature-God---and admirably suited to the foraging life.
This time, however, there was a difference: agriculture had been invented. Not overnight-"It was a very gradual process, not an event," Zarins emphasizes. It grew up along the Mediterranean coast and in today's Iran and Iraq as groups of hunter-gatherers evolved in-to agriculturists. Foragers from central Arabia, returning to the southern Mesopotamian plain, found it already resettled by these agriculturists. Because the process occurred before writing was invented, there is no record of what upheavals the evolution caused, what tortured questions about traditional values and life-styles, what dislocations of clans or tribes. Zarins posits that it must have been far more dramatic than the infinitely later Industrial Revolution, and an earthquake in comparison with today's computer-age discombobulation of persons, professions and systems.
"What would happen to a forager when his neighbors changed their ways or when he found agriculturists had moved into his territory?" Zarins asks. These agriculturists were innovative folk who had settled down, planted seeds, domesticated and manipulated animals. They made the food come to them, in effect, instead of chasing it over hill and dale. What would the forager do if he couldn't cope? He could die; lie could move on; he could join the agriculturists. But whatever happened, he would resent it."
Eden, Adam, and the birth of writing
The crunch came, Zarins believes, here in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys and in northern Arabia, where the hunter-gatherers, flooding in from less hospitable regions, were faced with more technically accomplished humans who knew how to breed and raise animals, who made distinctive pottery, who seemed inclined to cluster in settled groups. Who were these people? Zarins believes they were a southern Mesopotamian group and culture now called the Ubaid. They founded the oldest of the southern Mesopotamian cities, Eridu, about 5000 B.C. Though Eridu, and other cities like Ur and Uruk, were discovered a century ago, the Ubaidian presence down along the coast of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia has been known for little more than a decade, when vestiges of their settlements, graves and distinctive pottery turned up.
It was in Saudi Arabia that Zarins encountered the Ubaidians, and there that he began developing his hypothesis about the true meaning of the Biblical Eden. One clue lies in linguistics: the term Eden, or Edin, appears first in Sumer, the Mesopotamian region that produced the world's first written language. This was in the third millennium B.C., more than three thousand years after the rise of the Ubaid culture. In Sumerian the word "Eden" meant simply "fertile plain." The word "Adam" also existed in cuneiform, meaning something like "settlement on the plain." Although both words were set down first in Sumerian, along with place names like Ur and Uruk, they are not Sumerian in origin. They are older. A brilliant Assyriologist named Benno Landsberger advanced the theory in 1943 that these names were all linguistic remnants of a pre-Sumerian people who had already named rivers, cities-and even some specific trades like potter anti coppersmith-before the Sumerians appeared.