Not Out of Mesopotamia: The New York Times Today Reports that Scientists Contradict the Bible, and Locate the “Garden of Eden” in Either West or East Africa

The Bible’s book of Genesis puts the first man and the first woman (Adam and Eve) in a garden called Eden, and claims that this garden was located along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq).

But the New York Times today reports that scientists have, based on genetic and language evidence, located where the first modern humans really lived and dispersed into the rest of the world:

The origin of a species is generally taken to be the place where its individuals show the greatest genetic diversity. For humans, when the new African data is combined with DNA information from the rest of the world, this spot lies on the coast of southwest Africa near the Kalahari Desert, the research team, led by Sarah A. Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania, said in this week’s issue of Science.

Dr. Brooks, who spent many years in the area, said that it had some trees but that it also had deep sand and was not particularly garden-like. The area is a homeland of the Bushmen or San people, whose language is distinguished by its many click sounds.

The click language, it appears, is another clue to the ancient ancestry of the San people. And the Times notes that the San may have migrated from their current location (in West Africa) from East Africa:

[T]he San in the past might not have been restricted to where they are now, she said. The San are thought to have once occupied a much larger area, one that probably stretched from southern Africa up the east coast to as far as present-day Ethiopia.

Since the geneticists’ calculations refer to people, not geography, the San — and therefore the site of greatest human diversity — might have been located elsewhere in the past.

Christopher Ehret, an expert on African languages at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of Dr. Tishkoff’s team, has detected traces of words borrowed from click languages in East African languages. This suggests that proto-Khoisan, the inferred ancestral language of all click-speakers, may have originated in East Africa, Dr. Brooks said.

The language of the first modern humans may have undergone a very early branching, Dr. Ehret said, with the Khoisan click languages on one branch and the other three language groups of Africa — Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Kordofanian and Afroasiatic — on the other branch. Clicks are difficult to pronounce fluently and with a single exception no click languages are known outside Africa.

So when your kids ask you where the first human beings got their start, you can now say with a high level of certainty (based on the scientific analysis of both human genes and human languages) that the first modern people came not from Mesopotamia, as Genesis claims, but either from West Africa or East Africa (depending on where the San people ranged in the distant past).

It is quite an extraordinary and powerful confluence of evidence that both the scientific study of genes and the scientific study of languages have led us to the same area of the world, and to a people (the San) with a very archaic language indeed: the click language.

And notice in the map below how genetic diversity concentrates as you move ever deeper into southern Africa. DARK GREEN on the map represents those areas where genetic diversity is greatest.

Southern Africa is a long way from Iraq (Mesopotamia). The Genesis story of Adam and Eve, if treated as an historical account (and not as myth), thus gets the location of the first human beings not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong.

And those white Evangelicals and fundamentalists who tell their children that the first humans were any other color than black are not just engaging in a distortion of history, they are arguably engaging in a form of racist mythmaking—for it requires the crassest rejection of science to pretend otherwise. Our first human ancestors looked very much like the San Bushmen of southwest Africa, not like the (typically) drawn white Adam and Eve of popular children’s Bible story books.

Tracing Early Migration



And below is the model of Adam and Eve shown to people visiting the young earth Creation Museum in Kentucky. (One irony that I read about this display. The model for Adam, apparently, turns out also to have done “work” in the gay porn industry):


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to Not Out of Mesopotamia: The New York Times Today Reports that Scientists Contradict the Bible, and Locate the “Garden of Eden” in Either West or East Africa

  1. Pingback: Racism: Where Young Earth Creationism and Afrocentrism Meet « Prometheus Unbound

  2. Pingback: Biologist Jerry Coyne vs. Adam and Eve « Prometheus Unbound

  3. Pingback: Adam and Eve as White Racist Constructs « Prometheus Unbound

  4. The Bible's author and editor is God says:

    remember the flood that God brought. think Noah’s Ark.

    “2 Peter 3:6 states that the world before the worldwide catastrophic flood of Noah’s time was destroyed by that flood. Therefore some believe it is impossible for us to know the location of the garden of Eden as there is no correlation between today’s geography and the pre-flood geography. Four rivers are named as flowing out of the garden (Genesis 2:10-14) but in the same way that Ipswich in Queensland, Australia has no geographical correspondence to Ipswich in the UK after which it is named, there is no correlation in location to any current rivers that were named after Eden’s four rivers by survivors of the flood.” Wikipedia

  5. Vala says:

    Does it really matter,I can think of more pertinant issues of Bible and how we live,What about teaching this hate filled world the 10 Commandments of God that are all about love. Surely as a society we could do a lot worse than to follow this model,proven or not .Why do we have to have all the answers, Personally I have all that I need to know by getting to know God,I hav’nt all the answers and science and theology can argue back and forth forever but if you don’t first seek to find God how can you prove or disprove Himself or bible.tonyandvala@me

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