The cradle of human civilization may well have been the prehistoric lowlands of the Southeast Asian peninsula, rather than the Middle East. But since those lowlands catastrophically ‘sank’ beneath the seas thousands of years ago (actually drowned by rising sea levels), humanity has remained unaware of their possible significance up through the early XXI century.
Unaware except, that is, for a so-called myth perpetuated by Plato, before 347 BC. Plato spoke of an advanced civilization named Atlantis, which sank below the seas perhaps around 9,000 BC. It may well be he wasn’t so far off after all.
In the early XXI century the pieces of the puzzle are gradually coming together. Prehistoric human migration patterns made for population densities capable of building civilizations in southeast Asia possibly many thousands of years before such occurred in the Mid-East. The people of the region were very similar to modern humans in their physical and intellectual potentials — and displayed agricultural practices which wouldn’t be seen elsewhere in the world until many millennia later. We also now know that it is indeed possible for catastrophes to wipe out entire civilizations, perhaps leaving little to no evidence behind of their passing.
Moreover, mitochondrial DNA analysis indicates most Amerinds (majority of native north Americans) arrived in one wave around 38,000 BC - 18,000 BC. The genetic diversity in native Americans strongly implies at minimum 30,000 years of development on the continents (under some reasonably plausible scenarios). The 140 language families of native Americans suggests 40,000+ years of development.
Scientists estimate it should have required 7000 years of progressive migrations for people to reach and settle the vicinity of Monte Verde Chile, if they first entered the Americas by way of the Bering land bridge some 9000 miles away (if Monte Verde was settled by 31,000 BC, which it appears it was, then allowing 7000 years to reach it from Beringia results in a date of 38,000 BC for crossing the land bridge).
We have only recently begun to realize that much of human prehistory must now lie buried in the ocean floor due to the rising seas of 15,000 BC - 3,000 BC; so only extensive submarine efforts may enlighten us as to our true past prior to around 4000 BC. Another obstacle has been our inadequate technology for such submarine explorations. This too has only recently begun to be rectified.
«More history is waiting to be discovered under the sea than in all the world’s museums combined», undersea explorer Robert Ballard said in 2000. 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean; roughly 5% of it has been explored. The planet’s most spectacular mountain ranges are undersea, and as yet unconquered. The sea bottom represents a vast unexplored continent.
In 1926 James Churchward published the book The Lost Continent of Mu. It made the bold claim that an advanced prehistoric human civilization had existed in southeast Asia, but succumbed to earthquakes and a fiery inundation around 23,000 BC. Both before and after the disaster, the people of Mu had supposedly travelled widely about the Earth, mingling with other peoples and colonizing other lands.
Hard evidence of Churchward’s claimed sources has never been found. Sundaland is the proper label applied to the largest single section of Asian real estate submerged by rising sea levels after the last Ice Age (the lowlands of the greater southeast Asian peninsula). There are signs that all this land submerged by rising ocean levels was previously comparatively densely populated by human beings.
The Asian legend of Lemuria is somewhat similar to the western tales of Atlantis, involving a great land-mass which sunk beneath the seas long ago.
Great flood myths and folklore are common among many peoples, including those of Asia and the Pacific region. These flood-related tales may well relate prehistoric people’s perceptions of rising sea levels and glacial floods triggered by the end of the last Ice Age. The now undersea Sunda shelf of the southeast Asian peninsula, or Sundaland, seems a ripe place for research into prehistoric human settlements and perhaps even civilizations, forced to migrate to other lands or drown.
The Tamils have a tradition that their Sangam poetic academy has a history of 10,000 years, and that its center (along with the entire Tamil capital) has been forced to move three times due to rises in ocean levels. They also believe that their country in the past stretched deep into the south, including Sri Lanka and the Maldives, as the lost continent called Kumarikhandam.
In a recent book, Eden in the East — the Drowned Continent of Southest Asia (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 Sumeria, 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 Harappan or pre-Harappan culture, but even more easterly countries seem to be involved.
Homo sapiens were clearly in the region of Sundaland as far back as 43,000 BC to 28,000 BC; and so almost certainly travelled and lived on the vast dry lands existing there due to Ice Age lowered sea levels prior to 18,000 BC to 16,000 BC.
Between 12,000 BC and 5,000 BC it appears that massive inland flooding due to catastrophic glacier melt was taking place in several regions of the world, making for subsequent sea level rises which could be relatively abrupt for many worldwide — including folks living on the remaining lowland portions of the original swollen southeast Asian peninsula of the time.
The majority of high profile sites of Southeast Asia from early Neolithic times are caves, which suggests that more advanced settlements of the period had been drowned by rising sea waters created by the aftermath of the Ice Age.
Southeast Asia is much larger circa 23,000 BC than it will be in 2000 AD, with a single continuous land mass encompassing Java, Indonesia, Borneo, and India, Vietnam, China, and Korea, all boasting vastly swollen coastlines compared to 2000 AD.
The most inviting spots climate-wise of this time seem to include Middle Africa, the swollen mass of Southeast Asia, and Australia, all straddling the equator of a planet deep in the throes of an Ice Age. All these places offer large amounts of grass and dry woodland and forests, with perhaps around 30-50% rain forest and 20% or so desert or tundra.
The present window of abundant and lush lowlands on the southeast Asian peninsula will come to a close by around 13,875 BC as sea levels begin rising and taking back what once was sea bed. Thus, these lands will enjoy only something like 11,000 years of development as dry land before they are submerged again.
It is also true that these lowlands of a greater southeast Asian peninsula are very vulnerable to tsunamis (tidal waves) stemming from such things as earthquakes about the Pacific Rim, asteroid or comet impacts in the Pacific, Hawaiian lands-lips, and various volcanic eruptions in the Pacific region. Fortunately, Hawaiian lands-lips seem to take place only once every 100,000 years, and cosmic impacts of consequence here perhaps only once every 600,000 years, on average. So the 11,000 years window for civilization on the southeast Asian peninsula appears likely to have remained unbroken by those sources of havoc. Volcanic eruptions however are more frequent and troublesome for this region — and the glacial weight which subdues such eruptions elsewhere is absent in the vicinity of the peninsula of this time. And devastating tropical storms and hurricanes would be more frequent still.
All this leaves us with the southern coasts of India, and the south and east coasts of Asia. With the southeast peninsula smack in the middle of the Indian coasts and the combined regions of the dry Yellow Sea and East China Sea.
At this time in human prehistory, population densities and easy migration paths favour these Asian regions — even to the point that there could easily have been three separate centers of civilization distributed among them. Specifically, the centers of gravity for three such states ultimately fated to drown undersea could have been in the vicinities of coastal India, the now (23,000 BC) dry sea bottoms of the combined Yellow and East China Seas (bordered to the north by Korea, and separated/sheltered from the Pacific by a small shallow sea and a mountainous archipelago which someday will form the southern extremes of the Japanese isles), and the lowlands of the southeast Asian peninsula — with the peninsula lowlands perhaps being the most favoured of all, due to location, climate, and other matters. Note however that the extreme eastern regions of the Yellow and East China Sea bottoms would have offered a fabulous location for sea commerce ports, as well as better protection from Pacific tsunamis than most anywhere else in the region.
From 148,000 BC to 48,000 BC world population hovered around 11,000 to 40,000. By 8,000 BC world population may have been something under 10 million.
Assuming the fraction of these living in Antarctica and the Americas at the time is negligible, this leaves over six million to be spread over Eurasia and Africa.
In population density maps of the world for One AD (the earliest available from the site cited below), by far the greatest density appears to be along the eastern coast of China. The second greatest density is along the southern coasts of Asia, such as India. Lesser spots of significant human population are few and far between, with a tiny amount on the west coast of Africa.
Thus, it appears the bulk of this six million plus people in 23,000 BC likely live either on the east coast of China, or spread across the south coast of Asia, according to these maps. Note that the inviting tropical southeast Asian peninsula exists smack in the middle of these migration destinations, yet by One AD appears curiously under-populated considering its locale and climate. Could it be that the rising seas which inundated vast tracts of the peninsula between 15,000 BC and 3,000 BC — plus the increasing reach and intensity of storms in the area which accompanies such sea level rises — frightened off a substantial population after thousands of years of steadily encroaching submergence and destruction? Eventually, succeeding generations would come to expect that the invading sea would never stop coming, and perhaps head for the mainland where safer and more permanent settlements might be established. As if these incentives for exodus were not enough, the region is also afflicted with some of the most active volcanoes on Earth, as well as frequent earthquakes. Add in a possibly memorable, even terrifying war or two on the peninsula in its heyday, and you couldn’t come up with a better excuse for multiple generations to flee the region where feasible for them to do so.
People in general have possessed spoken language pretty much globally for at least 75,000 years by now, and perhaps for many hundreds of thousands of years. They have possessed some access to fire for nearly one and a half million years (though the secret of fire-starting may still elude them, forcing them to maintain perpetual fires in community hubs or else seek a flame from neighbours or others; such perpetual fires often burn for years or decades between extinguishing). One element helping make fire more practical is that lamps have been available for almost 50,000 years now (perhaps longer).
The humanity of this period may have possessed brains roughly the same size as XX century man’s for close to 800,000 years by this point.
It is possible that the people of 22,425 BC possess quite sophisticated clothing, body art, and personal accessories, as well as jewellery, fishing and hunting nets, ropes, cords, and string by this time — and perhaps have for at least a couple thousand years already. Musical instruments such as flutes have existed for at least 25,000 years by now. Man-made housing has existed for more than 375,000 years. Food and drink containers have been in use for at least around 80,000 years, perhaps almost half a million. True pottery has been in use for at least around 10,000 years already in Asia.
The prehistory of man may be, after all, full of fascinating mysteries waiting to be discovered.