Sundaland – the mother civilisation?

The publisher of ‘East of Eden: the drowned continent of Southeast Asia’ by Stephen Oppenheimer says this about the book: “The biblical flood did really occur at the end of the last Ice Age. The Flood drowned for ever the huge continental shelf of Southeast Asia, and caused a population dispersal which fertilised the Neolithic cultures of China, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the eastern Mediterranean, thus creating the first civilisations.

“ … “The Polynesians did not come from China but from the islands of Southeast Asia.” … “The domestication of rice was not in China, but in the Malay Peninsula, 9,000 years ago.” So, there we go! Yet another fantastic scenario.

The evidence? From oceanography, linguistics, genetics, and folklore, says the author – as archaeology is relatively silent on this issue, unless one digs under the sea.

Oppenheimer says “It is beyond doubt that during the Ice Age, Southeast Asia was a single huge continent – a land mass which included Indo-China, Malaysia and Indonesia.” This would effectively be a substantial appendage, a peninsula, to continent Asia. Without writing, or archaeological finds, pre-history could seek to trace the family trees of languages to identify population movements (but not necessarily the ethnic or tribal links), aided by genetics. Folklore may be a starting indicative point in this search. This is what Oppenheimer has done to reach what he admits is a theory.

Thus, 3 sudden floods approximately 14,000 years, 11,500 years, and 8,000 years ago resulted in a rise in sea levels of 500 feet (120 metres). “Rapid land loss was accompanied by great earthquakes.” Contrary to the prevailing paradigm that everything important that has affected us commenced relatively recently – I am not sure how that view arose – Oppenheimer claims much longer histories; for example, for rice growing.

He concludes thus: “The final and most compelling evidence – that the present inhabitants of Southeast Asia have been there since the Ice Age, and started moving in all directions at the time of the floods – comes from the genes they carry ... Gene markers reveal Aboriginals of Southeast Asia at the root of the Asian family trees, and spreading to all parts of the compass as far as America and the Middle East. One particular marker – called the ‘Polynesian motif’ because such a high proportion of Polynesians carry it – originated in the people of Maluku (the Moluccas) in eastern Indonesia during the Ice Age. The fact that this marker has not been found in China, Taiwan or the Philippines contradicts the conventional theory, and allows a much older view of Southeast Asian prehistory.”

So, contrary to the post-colonial view that civilisation went from West to East, did it go from the East (via Sundaland) to the West, as Oppenheimer asserts?