A team of archeologists has reported finding evidence linking an archeological excavation site in Ubeidiyeh on the southern edge of the Sea of Galilee to the Garden of Eden. The archeologists reported their findings in the British science journal Nature.

In response, residents of a kibbutz at the village of Afikim, on whose land the archeological site is located, have decorated the entrance to their settlement with hand-painted signs saying "This way to paradise."

One observer, Jennie Goldman of the Israel Interfaith Association, said as she surveyed the now stony, sun-baked hills, "This area was once a lake fringed with forests of oak and pine, where horses, giraffes, hippopotamuses and elephants roamed wild." It is, she said, "all too clear that paradise is not what it used to be."

In an interview analyzing the archeological report, Professor Ofer Bar-Yosef, senior archeologist at Hebrew University, said that the site is the most ancient excavated site in Israel. Animal bones and stone tools dating back more than a million years have been found there.

Bar-Yosef said that if treated as an allegory, the Garden of Eden story in the Book of Genesis could be interpreted as an account of the two major phases in the early development of human civilization.

The Paleolithic, or Early Stone Age, would symbolize the Garden of Eden, he said. The hunting and gathering society of that period offered a leisurely and undemanding lifestyle, he said.

In about 8,000 B.C., the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, was ushered in by the agricultural revolution. It was then that people learned how to plan and reap, and while food supplies became more stable, more work was required, he said. It was, he said, "a far more arduous life."

"We know that this agricultural revolution began in the Near East," he said. "In the account of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, we have what may be seen as a dramatization of this transmission.