Botswana Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden and Archaeological Evidence of Its Existence

The image of Garden of Eden as Eve gives Adam apple surrounded by animals, lions walkin in the foregorund and at the backgound we see a river flowing ang mountains and trees

Today’s canonical texts of Western literature and iconographic artworks owe their repertoire to the Bible and one of its most debated elements: the Garden of Eden, whose existence has been negotiated for centuries. According to the biblical narrative, the Garden of Eden is where the history of humans started.

Yet, before the Bible, literary texts and oral stories were full of myths of creation that have been handed down from generation to generation, particularly in Mesopotamian civilizations such as the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Akkadians in the third millennium and the people of Ugarit and Canaan in the second millennium. All these transmitted myths tell how everything originated. They also point out how light and darkness, and good and evil commingle as two opposite forces to form life. And the silhouette of the Garden of Eden appears as a sacred place or earthly paradise in different forms in these pre-biblical narratives, which keeps bothering us with one single question: where is or was the Garden of Eden? Or does it really exist?

colored image of animals in the Garden of Eden as birds flying around and perced on the branches

Biblical narrative: The Garden of Eden

” A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:10-15).

The Garden of Eden refers to the biblical earthly paradise abundant in food, water, and beauty. According to the biblical story, God creates first Adam and then Eve out of Adam’s rib in this garden. The garden is believed to be situated to the east of Eden. At the center of the garden, there is a Tree of Life and a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the second of which is banned for Adam and Eve.

However, Satan, in the form of a serpent, seduces Eve to try the fruit from the banned tree: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:3-5). Eve can’t resist, eats the fruit and also gives it to Adam. After indulging in sinning, Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness and cover themselves with fig leaves. God knows that they had eaten from the tree of knowledge, and they got expelled from the Garden of Eden.

John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667)

The 17th-century writer John Milton produced one of the canonical texts in English Literature that retells the story of the fall of man. Known as Milton’s magnum opus, Paradise Lost is written in blank verse and consists of 10 books. The main themes of the books are sin and repentance, free will and divine knowledge, and hierarchy and order. Paradise Lost starts with the narrator’s voice, telling the fall of Eden and man’s disobedience to God. The narrator also states the main purpose of the poem: “justify the ways of God to men” ( I.25-26). After the introduction ends, Satan starts to speak, who says “ Which way I fly is hell, myself am hell” and forms his own kingdom, Pandemonium. With other fallen angels, he decides to corrupt God’s human creation and starts making plans.

a black and white image of Adam and Eve sitting together naked on the hilli in a forest as the Satan watches them behind a tree

Satan builds a bridge between Earth and Hell and rebels against God. Then, he finds a way to reach the Garden of Eden to seduce Eve to eat the fruit. Adam, who is in love with Eve, chooses to sin and fall together with her. After Satan returns to hell with happiness and satisfaction that the mission is complete, he announces the news and sees that fallen angels have turned into snakes. Soon he also becomes one. Adam and Eve feel guilty for the first time, under the burden of sinning. Angel Michael takes Adam to the top of the mountain and shows him the future of mankind, including Tower Babylon, the Flood, the Noah’s Ark. Eve has this vision as a nightmare as she is sleeping. At the very end, they leave Eden together in sadness, holding hands.

Why is Paradise Lost important?

“….One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” (I:252-5)

In Paradise Lost, Milton addresses the Renaissance reader who wants to know. It is a repeated Renaissance theme we also see in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, who signs a contract with the devil to hold the knowledge of everything. Here, Satan has a similar mission: to have his own freedom and seduce humans to know. That’s in some sense what makes readers almost sympathize with the devil as he talks about free will, ambition to know and act. Likewise, Adam and Eve are full of desire to know, especially about their Lord and how they came alive. We hear them speak as they reveal what is in their minds. Most importantly, they have a self and a voice, through which Milton attempts to understand and define sin, repentance, evil and good from the perspective of different characters. Paradise Lost is a meditation on all these concepts.

Some critics argue that Milton aligns himself with proto-Satan and anti-Catholic sentiments by dedicating the first part of Paradise Lost to Satan, who gives his rational reasons for rebellion against God, by saying “We shall be free; the almighty hath not built /To reign is worth ambition though in hell: /Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven” (I: 254–63). For the same reason, this book was banned for some time. As Percy Shelley indicates, “Milton’s Devil as a moral being is… far superior to his God.”

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Early Delights

Bosch's triptych of the Garden of Earthly Delights, which depic the scenes of Adam and Eve unification, the fleshy desires of manking and the fall of ma withpolychromatic and vivid interiors and medieval symbols of animals to represent lust and sexual appetite

“This evil of the Devil creeps in through all the sensual approaches; he gives himself to figures, adapts himself to colors; he abides in sounds, lurks in smells, he infuses himself into flavors.” St. Thomas Aquinas

In his triptych, The Garden of Early Delights, Hieronymus Bosch depicts the fleshy desires, the fall of mankind, and the consequences of sinning after filtering the centuries-old story Garden of Eden through his imagination. A Renaissance artist himself from the Netherlands, Bosch builds this theme with Medieval symbolic elements. The vivid polychromatic study of the Fall of Adam and Eve presents a dual identity, which embeds surrealism and realism, perspective and flatness, secularism, and religious themes. Another clue that reveals the secular character of the paintings comes from Jacobs, who indicates, “the Garden of Earthly Delights was intended for a secular rather than ecclesiastical location, since in 1517 (not long after its creation) a traveler mentioned seeing this work in the palace of the dukes of Nassau.”

Embedded Medieval elements in the painting and their meaning

Bosch divides the story into three parts. First, God unites Adam and Eve as the vegetation grows in the background. Secondly, mankind gives in to temptation; human figures engage in fruit-eating and sexual intercourse. And the third panel is a scene of the penalty and the fall of the man. What makes this artwork luring is that “medieval man was taught that sin presented itself in the most attractive guises and that beneath physical beauty and agreeable sensations often lurked death and damnation” (Gibson 14)

So these three panels come rich in symbols. To start with, they have many animal figures, which symbolize the lower or animal appetites. As Gibson states, “in devotional treatises, as in the visual arts, personifications of vices were frequently shown on the backs of symbolic beasts” (12).  And Bosch makes use of this through spreading human-animal figures, particularly in the central panel. Also, fruits resonate with sexual connotations, and moors with beast-like appetites are examples of lechery. Participating in the moralizing tradition, the iconography of the Garden of Early Delights has an unconventional form, with a high level of imagination. It represents a “carnal delight as a pleasure park or as a great garden” (Gibson 9).

Ruben’s and Brueghel the Elder’s The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man

the painting of the Garden of Eden, on the left Eve is grabbing fruit from the tree and giving it to Adam,as the river flows behind them in the abundance of trees, nature and animals surrounding them

This 17th-century painting was a collaboration between Peter Paul Rubens ( who painted the human figures) and Jan Brueghel the Elder ( who painted the fauna and flora). It depicts the scene of Eve grabbing the apple as Adam sits under the Tree of Knowledge. In their surroundings, we see lots of animals: fish in the river, ducks swimming, a tiger lying on the grass, a monkey eating an apple ( another symbol of sinning), rabbits near Eve’s foot (symbol of fertility), and many more. Also, across the river, there are grape trees, the raw version of wine, which symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ.

Masaccio’s The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

Masaccio's painting about Adam and Eve's expulsion from the heaven as they leave Eden feeling shameful, Adam covers his face while Eve covers her gentialia and breasts as a red clothed ange leads them out of the gate of Eden, before and after restauration pictures. fig leaves covering genitalia in the original
Left: Before the restoration; Right: after the restoration Credit:

Masaccio’s version portrays one of the most articulate expressions of Adam and Eve as they leave the Garden of Eden in shame. Adam covers his face, looking down, as Eve covers her breasts and genitalia with her hands with a howling expression on her face. Unlike the previously mentioned paintings, Masaccio’s main focus is the human body and human expressions of shame as a representation of guilt, rather than a portrayal of Adam and Eve against a detailed background. It shows that they are not part of a harmonious union with nature anymore. They are marginalized figures, all alone in a brownish infertile arid land.

Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve (1526)

Renaissance painting of Adam and Eve standing in front of the apple tree, Adam is scratching his head looking confused as Eve gives him the fruit and holding the branches with her other hand as the deers, lions and lambs are wondering around

The Renaissance painter Cranach was a contemporary of Albert Dürer and one of the most significant artists of his time. Cranach has a large collection of Adam and Eve depictions in the Garden of Eden. His paintings are intriguing, especially for the poses he chooses for Adam and Eve. For instance, the painting of the 1526 version depicts the moment of temptation as Eve gives Adam the apple. She definitely has a strong standing while holding one of the branches confidently. Adam looks confused, thinking and trying to make a decision. Eating the fruit or not turns into an ethical dilemma for him. Deer antlers and the flora appear in the center to cover Adam and Eve’s genitalia, foreshadowing the future.

The real location of Eden

a map on which the Tigris and Euphrates , Pishon and Gihon rivers' potential and real locations are indicated with blue lines to guess where the Garden of Eden is located
Credit: pinterest

There are many theories about whether Eden actually exists and, if so, where it could be. It is a question that resists time and requires a deep investigation into the geography and cosmography in the ancient east. Some of the available theories locate the Garden of Eden in Iran, Turkey, Mongolia, Jerusalem, South America, and even Jackson County, Missouri. But, of course, there are many gaps in all these theories that are hard to fill in.

Still, there are many references we could look into in order to form a solid background to propose arguments. Some linguistical and some geographical, all of them have been evidence in scholarly works. The main clue to chase after is the Bible descriptions of the four rivers in Mesopotamia: the Euphrates, Tigris (Hiddekel), Pison, and Gihon. Researchers build their theories on these four rivers. However, even though the first two are well-known rivers, it is open to negotiation where Pison and Gihon are or were.

The Persian Gulf

Anthropology professor Juris Zarins suggests that the current place of Eden is now underwater at the head of the Persian Gulf, where the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers meet and spill their water. These two rivers also define the location of Mesopotamia as the area in-between them. He bases this argument on the geographical evidence of the rise of the water level due to the Persian Gulf’s coastline’s expansion (Cline 8).

Arabian Peninsula

The late Professor James Sauer stated the Garden of Eden could be near the Arabian Peninsula and wrote, “with the use of remote sensing technology, Boston University geologist Farouk El-Baz has traced a major partially underground, sand river channel from the mountains of Hijaz to Kuwait, which he has named the Kuwait River” (Cline 9). And Sauer associated this river with the Pishon river mentioned in the Bible. He backed up this theory by emphasizing the presence of bdellium and onyx found in Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.

Later, this theory was supported by Z. Sitchin, who suggested that the fourth river, the Gihon, is the Karun river, flowing down from Iran into the northern end of the Persian Gulf ( Zevit 2013).


In 2001, Michael S. Sanders made a claim by pointing to Turkey as the Garden of Eden, basing his argument on the NASA satellite photos.  According to the NASA photos, he identified the four rivers of Eden as the Murat River, the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the north fork of the Euphrates (Cline 11).


As a gate to a Heavenly and earthly place for many, Jerusalem is another studied destination by scholars due to its cosmic mountains and sacred water resource, Gihon. One of the associations between Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden belongs to Stager. He argues that “Yahweh already identified the Garden of Eden with the Garden of God in Jerusalem. In this mythic account, the primordial source irrigates the ground and produces a river which waters the garden and then divides into the four rivers of paradise, one of which is the Gihon” (189). Additionally, Stager highlights the Garden of Eden’s identification with the House of Yahweh in Jerusalem. To quote Psalm 36:9-10:

They [the people] feast on the rich fare of your house [Temple];
You [Yahweh] give them drink from abundant streams.
For with you is the Fountain of Life,
In your light you see light.


Botswana Garden of Eden

A DNA study pointed to Botswana, situated to the south of the Zambezi River in southern Africa, as the real location of the Garden of Eden. The scientists reached this conclusion by tracing the maternal genetic lineage or mitochondrial DNA of homo sapiens. As Professor Vanessa Hayes, a geneticist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia states, “Mitochondrial DNA acts like a time capsule of our ancestral mothers, accumulating changes slowly over generations. Comparing the complete DNA code, or mitogenome, from different individuals provides information on how closely they are related.” She also adds that “It has been clear for some time that anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago but what we haven’t known is where that homeland is. What has long been debated is the exact location of this emergence and subsequent dispersal of our earliest ancestors.”

Additionally, Botswana is currently in the Kalahari Desert. However, the geographical evidence shows it used to be abundant in water in Lake Makgadikgadi. Only after climate change, did our ancestors have to leave the land they settled for 70000 years.

For those interested in a further investigation into the subject, the journal Nature published the research, which proposes “a southern African origin of anatomically modern humans with sustained homeland occupation before the first migrations of people that appear to have been driven by regional climate changes.”

Cultural significance of the Garden of Eden in anthropology

a painting by Thomas Cole, who depicts the Garden of Eden with waterfalls, as the sun shines at the background, and lightens the hills and trees

“Give me the storm and tempest of thought and action, rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith! Banish me from Eden when you will; but first let me eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge!”
Robert G. Ingersoll

Early Migration
Map of early human migration.

We have been telling stories about the origins of life. All come with the aim of endowing our lives with meaning. The search and theorizing about where the Garden of Eden is or was located shares the same compassion. The Garden of Eden is not only about the beginning of human history and the fall of man. It is also the very place that witnessed the birth of the first human knowledge and self-consciousness. We are still after that knowledge, in search of where the Garden of Eden is located. This could be a metaphor for many things. So, where is or was the Garden of Eden?


Cline, Eric, H. From Eden to Exile: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Bible. Washington DC: National Geographic, 2007.

Gibson, Walter, S. “The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch: The Iconography of the Central Panel.”Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek (NKJ), Vol. 24 (1973).

Jacob, Lynn, F., “The Triptychs of Hieronymus Bosch.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, Winter, 2000, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Winter, 2000), pp. 1009-1041.

Stager, Lawrence, E. “Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden.” Eretz-Israel: Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Studies.Vol. כו‎, FRANK MOORE CROSS VOLUME / ספר פרנק מור קרוס‎ (1999 / תשנ”ט), pp. 183-194.

Zevit, Ziony. What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden?. Yale University Press, 2013.



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