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PLANS are now being laid in the West Country for an epic archaeological expedition to the Middle East to locate the Biblical Garden of Eden.
As I reported on this page in November, Edmund Marriage, an independent researcher from Dorset, wants to promote the legacy of his late uncle, Christian O'Brien, an exploration geologist and archaeologist who, with his poet wife Barbara Joy, wrote a series of scholarly books proposing the diffusion of civilisation and agriculture from Southern Lebanon by the survivors of an advanced society, wrecked by a global catastrophe about 12,400 years ago.
They saw this ancient community as being the single benevolent source for law and religions.
I can now reveal that satellite pictures of the region have produced dramatic new evidence that appears to back up O'Brien's remarkable theory, and that Edmund, 65, of Milborne Port, is now liaising with the Lebanese authorities and academic institutions in the UK about sending in a survey team this year.
It would run under the auspices of the Patrick Foundation which Edmund founded in partnership with his aunt to continue the O'Briens' work.
The pictures show what seem to be the remains of a huge dam and reservoir system in an intermontane basin near Mount Hermon - and, astoundingly, the aerial images match plans drawn by O'Brien more than 20 years ago.
"It's really exciting," said Edmund, who met First Secretary Hassan Abbas at the Lebanese Embassy in London last week to discuss the project. "There doesn't seem to be any doubt that it's a very large megalithic structure.
"The purpose of the visit would be to survey, investigate, photograph and film structures and the area itself, together with the dating of pollen by taking of a number of sediment cores, as well as other samples."
According to O'Brien, the original source of religions was that known to the ancient Sumerians as Kharsag ("head enclosure") or Eden, and he concluded that the site in the Near East which best met the descriptions was the area north of Rachaiya, near Mount Hermon, where there is still a town called Ehdin nearby. O'Brien's research included painstaking study of ancient Sumerian, Aramaic and Hebraic texts, together with a detailed geological and scientific study of the Near East, and this indicates that a small but highly developed group restarted agriculture and civilisation at Kharsag in about 9,500BC.
He thought that it was this that was being referred to in the story of the Creation and the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis. Myths worldwide relate back to these people under various names, including angels, serpents, ancient masters and, of course, gods.
The theory is that they were the survivors of massive meltwater floods as ice-dams burst at the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,400BC, accompanied by gargantuan earthquakes as the Earth was struck by cometary debris in the Hudson Bay region.
Edmund said: "From the recently introduced images available on Google Earth, I have been able to identify important archaeological remains at this location, and I'm seeking permissions and a partner in the Lebanon to assist with a preliminary survey of the site and, if warranted and approved by the Lebanese authorities, a four-year archaeological investigation of the area.
"Features visible in the photos include the site of a dam and reservoir used to irrigate crops during what was a very dry period during which agriculture would have been impossible without adequate supplies of water.
"Of major interest in the Google images is what appears to be the reservoir overflow watercourse running from the site of the dam to divert surplus water into a lower valley, thereby ensuring that the basin was not flooded."
Edmund feels the Kharsag research project is of great historical importance to the people of Lebanon and Syria, and does not want to proceed without a much better understanding of the subject among the political and religious factions, who he hopes would be more likely to be united by a greater knowledge of their common ancestors.
Rana Andari, of the Directorate of General Antiquities in Lebanon, said it was a "very interesting project". He added: "We would surely want to discuss it further and try to understand as much as possible."