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Quaternary International 117 (2004) 153166

Possible role of the Holocene Event 3 on the collapse of Neolithic Cultures around the Central Plain of China
Wu Wenxianga,b,*, Liu Tungshengb
b a College of Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100029, China

Abstract Profound archaeological transformations that mark the collapse of Neolithic Cultures around Central China during the late third millennium BC have been identied widely. However, the causes for their collapse have been disputed. In this paper, paleoclimatic data are synthesized to show that an interval of severe climatic anomalies occurred across much of China, which were synchronous with a climatic event identied at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Our syntheses also indicate that this climatic interval was not only one of several climatic events during the Holocene, but marked the middle Holocene climatic transition (the ending of Holocene optimum). Based on geological evidences and analysis of relationships between variations in the intensity of the East Asian monsoon and changes in distributional pattern of monsoon-related rain belts in eastern China, we suggest that this climatic anomaly was superimposed on the middle Holocene transition and signicantly altered the hydrological regime. This generated an environmental framework of drought in the north and ooding in the south of China, which was mainly responsible for the collapse of Neolithic Cultures around the Central Plain. r 2003 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

1. Introduction In recent years there has been an increase in interdisciplinary studies of paleoenvironments and their role on social processes, especially the rise and fall of pristine civilizations (Weiss et al., 1993; Hodell et al., 1995; Curtis et al., 1996; Binford et al., 1997; Grosjean et al., 1997; deMenocal et al., 2000; Weiss, 2000). Special attention is paid to climatic change around 4000 yr BP, which has been termed the 4000 yr BP Event by Perry and Hsu (2000) or the Holocene Event 3 by Bond et al. (1997) and its possible role on the collapses of ancient civilizations in Egypt, Indus, and Mesopotamia (Weiss et al., 1993; Dalfes et al., 1997; Hsu, 1998; Cullen et al., 2000; Perry and Hsu, 2000; Weiss, 2000; deMenocal, 2001). However, little is known about the 4000 yr BP event, its environmental ramications, and its impact on Chinese civilization, despite scattered reports suggesting that the 4000 yr BP climatic event may be responsible for the collapse of the Liangzhu Culture in the lower Yangtze River valley (Stanley et al., 1999; Yu et al.,
*Corresponding author. College of Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China. 1040-6182/$ - see front matter r 2003 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/S1040-6182(03)00125-3

2000). It was once thought that the amplitude of the 4000 yr BP event in China was not comparable to that observed in other parts of the world, and that it could not have affected the ancient cultures of China as much as those elsewhere (Hsu, 1998). Contrary to Hsus (1998) view, however, archaeological evidence clearly indicates a profound archaeological transformation that marks the collapse of Neolithic Cultures around the Central Plain during the late third millennium BC, (e.g., Yu, 1992; Li et al., 1993; Liu, 1996, 2000; Zhang et al., 1997; Stanley et al., 1999; Xu, 1999; Zhao, 1999; Cao, 2000; Shui, 2000; Tian, 2000; Yu et al., 2000; Tian and Tang, 2001; Wu and Liu, 2001). Geological evidence also indicates a climatic anomaly during the late third millennium BC (e.g., Gasse et al., 1991; Lister et al., 1991; Sun and Chen, 1991; Zhou et al., 1991; Liu et al., 1992; Fontes et al, 1993; Van Campo and Gasse, 1993; Fontes et al., 1996; Gasse et al., 1996; Van Campo et al., 1996; Zhang et al., 1997; Chen et al., 1999; Guo et al., 2000; Jian et al., 2000; Zhang et al., 2000). The aim of this paper is to evaluate the geological evidence for the apparently climatic-induced collapse of Neolithic Cultures around Central China in the late third millennium BC. This examination will focus on the causes,

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mechanisms, and timing of this putative climatic event, its environmental effects, and its possible role on the collapse of Neolithic Cultures around Central China.

2. Present environmental setting China is characterized by an intense monsoonal and continental climate, marked by gradient in continentality and aridity from southeastern to northwestern mainly due to the northwestward attenuation of monsoon winds (Fig. 1). Chinas topography has been likened to a series of steps decreasing in altitude (Fig. 1) from the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau in west-central China with a mean altitude of 4000 m, to the Xinjiang-Inner Mongolia, Loess, and Yunnan-Guizhou Plateaus with a mean altitude of 2000 m, and nally to the vast eastern low alluvial plain with a mean altitude of 200500 m (Winkler and Pao, 1993). Generally, the Qingling Mountains and Huai River Valley are taken as a natural boundary between south and north of China. This also coincides roughly with the dividing line between areas of rice and millet cultivation in ancient China. In this paper, the south and north (of China) are said to be divided by the Yellow River. The climate of China is closely related to the Asian summer monsoon system, which consists of relatively independent subsystems, namely the southwestern (Indian) monsoon and eastern Asian monsoon. The dividing line between the two systems lies from about 105 to 110 E longitude. Thus the East Asian monsoon regime is the dominant inuence for the climate and

environment of central and eastern China, which also has been the main arena for the activities of Neolithic people in China. The winter monsoon is associated with the Siberian high-pressure system and controls variations of temperature across almost the whole of eastern China. The winter monsoon brings the cold and dry continental air-mass southward to ca. 22 N latitude. In contrast, the summer monsoon carries a warm and humid air-mass from the ocean to a ca. 40.3 N latitude, spreading across the eastern part of northwestern China, northern China, and most of northeastern China (An, 1999; An et al., 2000) (Fig. 1). The summer monsoon is the most important factor controlling summer rainfall over the eastern part of China. It not only can benet the livelihood of tens of thousands of people who live there but also can give rise to calamities, such as oods and drought that can impact the vast, densely populated areas of eastern China (An et al., 2000). The occurrence of the most common natural disasters such as drought, ooding, and cold injuries are also related to other elements such as topography, latitude, and their proximity to the sea. Generally speaking, the northern and western margins of China are more prone to suffer drought disasters due to their being more continental and at a higher altitude, while the vast lowland of lower Yellow River Valley, the middle and lower Yangtze River Valley, and the southeastern coastal areas are very likely to suffer ooding because of their lower altitude and their proximity to the sea (Fig. 1). Northeastern China is prone to damage caused by low temperatures (including cold injuries to humans) due to its being at higher latitude.









Winter monsoon


Qing Lin

Ye llo w

Ri ve r

Hu a

i Riv



Yangtze River

summer monsoon

southwest monsoon
0 250 500km

> 4000m 2000-4000m <2000m 20




Fig. 1. Map showing the topography of China and the Asian monsoon regime.

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3. Archaeological background Profound archaeological changes during the late Longshan period have been identied, which are associated with the collapse of Neolithic Cultures around Central China (e.g., Liu, 1996, 2000; Zhang et al., 1997; Stanley et al., 1999; Xu, 1999; Zhao, 1999; Shui, 2000; Tian, 2000; Yu et al., 2000; Tian and Tang, 2001) and the emergence of state-level society in Central China (Liu, 1996, 2000). Archaeological investigations during the past few decades have established the rise of several distinct and roughly contemporaneous cultures (eight according to Yans (2000) description (Fig. 2)) of comparable social complexity in different regions of China (Chang, 1999; Yan, 2000). Most of these Neolithic Cultures were chiefdom-like societies (Liu, 1996, 2000; Chang, 1999) and had been expected to evolve into more complex societies like that of the Longshan Culture of Central China, which entered into a state level of society at the end of Longshan Period (Liu, 1996, 2000). However, most of these cultures collapsed. The cultures that are identied to have denitely collapsed around 42004000 calendar yr BP include the Liangzhu Culture (53004200 yr BP) in Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces of the lower Yangtze River Valley (Fig. 3) (Zhu et al., 1997; Stanley et al., 1999); the Shijiahe Culture (46004200 yr BP) in the Lianghu area of Hubei and Hunan Provinces on the Middle Yangtze River Valley (Zhang, 2000); the Shangdong Longshan Culture of the Lower Yellow River Valley (46004200 yr BP) (Yu, 1992; Liu, 1996, 2000) the Qijia Culture (44003900 yr BP) in Gansu and

Qinghai Provinces of Upper Yellow River Valley (Li et al., 1993; Shui, 2000); and the Laohushan Culture (45004300 yr BP) in southern Inner Mongolia (Tian, 2000; Tian and Tang, 2001). In the Chengdu Plain of Sichuan Province, however, fewer archaeological investigations have been conducted and the paucity of dates preclude the evaluation of denite cultural changes. In the Liaoxi area of Liaoning Province and southeastern Inner Mongolia, the Xiaoheyan Culture collapsed at its beginning and manifested a long period of underdevelopment compared either to the preceding Hongshan culture or to the succeeding Lower Xiajiadian culture (Nelson, 1995; Jin and Liu, 2002). This situation is in contrast to other Longshan variants around the Central Plain which collapsed around 4000 yr BP. In Central China, the late third millennium BC witnessed not only the collapse of Neolithic culture but its evolution into state-level society (Liu, 1996, 2000). Signs indicating the collapse of Neolithic cultures around Central China include: (1) fewer archaeological sites found, and sites found in more restricted areas; (2) less sophisticated materials utilized than in subsequent cultural phases; (3) disappearance or a sharp decrease of large-scale architecture such as centralized ritual burial areas and highly labor-intensive walled settlements (Stanley et al., 1999; Liu, 2000; Zhang, 2000). In the northern and northwestern China, the collapse of the Qijia and Laohushan Cultures were also characterized by widespread replacement of dry-farming agricultural systems by pastoralism (Li et al., 1993; Shui, 2000; Tian, 2000; Tian and Tang, 2001).


Central Plain Ganqing Haidai Lianghu



500 750km

Fig. 2. Map showing the regional Neolithic cultures during the Longshan Period in China (after Yang, 2001).


ao xi



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80 90 100 110 120 130 50 1

2 40 Jining 3 Inner Mongol Xinjiang 14 16 17 8 Qinghai 7 Xizang (Tibet) Sichuan 10 9 11 12Gansu 18 Shanxi Henan Hubei 20 19 21 Zhejiang Hunan 20 Yunnan 0 250 500 750 km 20 Guizhou 23 22 30 Shanxi 15 Hebei
ng do an h S Jiangsu

13 Liaoning 40

4 5 6 30




Fig. 3. Map showing some locations of the geological records synthesized and the provinces mentioned in this paper. 1. Hoton-Nur (Tarasov et al., 2000); 2. Manas (Rhodes et al., 1996; Wei and Gasse, 1999); 3. Heyuan (Zhang et al., 1990; Chen, 1987); 4. Cengze (Chen, 1987); 5. Sumxi-Longmu (Gasse et al., 1991; Fontes et al., 1993); 6. Bangong (Fontes et al., 1996); 7. Selin (Gu et al., 1993); 8. Dunde (Shi et al., 1993); 9. Minqging (Chen et al., # (Yan et al., 1999; Zhou et al, 2002); 13. Jinchuan (Liu, 1989); 14. 1999); 10. Hongshui (Zhang et al., 2000); 11. Qinghai (Lister et al., 1991); 12. Zoige Diaozihai (Yang, 2001); 15. Taishizhuang (Jin and Liu, 2002); 16. Chasuqi (Wang and Sun, 1997); 17. Daihai. (An et al., 1991); 18. Fengyang (Zhang, 2001); 19. Qidong (Liu et al., 1992); 20. Gongan (Tang et al., 1996); 21. Mianyang (Yang et al., 1998); 22. Okinawa Trough (Jian et al., 2000); and 23. Rc26-16. Rc26-16: (Wei et al., 1998).

The causes of the collapse of Neolithic cultures in Southern China and Lower Yellow River Valley (referred to as the Shandong Longshan culture) have been long debated. Generally, archaeologists have attributed their collapse solely to human factors, such as social, political, and economic factors. For example, the collapse of the Shijiahe Culture was attributed primarily to the defeat of the Sanmiao tribe in at the hands of the Huaxia tribe during warfare in the Central Plain (e.g., Cao, 2000). For the Shandong Longshan Culture, Zhang (1994) proposed that invaders with a more advanced technology were responsible for the sharp break between the Longshan Culture and the subsequent dynastic period. The collapse of the Liangzhu Culture was either attributed to the over-consumption of expensive goods such as elaborately worked jades and the labor-intensive construction of large architectural structures (Xu, 1999; Zhao, 1999) or the defeat in war with the Huaxia tribe in the Central Plain. However, these social explanations can not account for the synchronicity of collapse of several Neolithic cultures at a large regional scale. The archaeologist Yu (1992) attributed the collapse of the Liangzhu Culture, the Shijiahe Culture, and the

Shandong Longshan Culture to ooding disasters. This hypothesis was echoed by some geographers (e.g., Zhu et al., 1997; Stanley et al., 1999; Yu et al., 2000). However, some archaeologists have disputed this environmental hypothesis by arguing that: (1) ooding may have occurred many times during the Neolithic period, and so there is little reason to suggest that ooding at this time had a more adverse effect on the development of Neolithic cultures; (2) although the low topography of eastern and southern China is more prone to ooding, the landforms are complex, with hills, mesas, high terraces, and low mountains occupying a vast area. These reaches could have provided a refuge for ancient people eeing oods. Advanced societies could not be destroyed completely by only a ood. Compared with the collapse of Neolithic cultures in the southern China, the attribution of the collapse of the Qijia and Laohushan Cultures to natural disasters has not provoked much debate. However, the lack of geological evidence has precluded a good understanding of the impact of climatic events on the collapse of Neolithic cultures in the northwestern monsoon marginal areas.

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4. Environmental background Over the last few decades, many new observations and analyses of geological records have yielded substantial data on past environmental and climatic changes (for compilations see e.g., Sun and Chen, 1991; Zhou et al., 1991; Feng et al., 1993; Shi et al., 1993; Winkler and Pao, 1993; Guo et al., 2000). These records range from the beginning to the end of the Holocene, permit a good analysis of regional climate evolution, and provide an opportunity to objectively evaluate the Holocene Event 3 and its environmental effects in China. Here we attempt to summarize important information relevant to this climatic interval, proceeding in our descriptions from northwest to southeast China. 4.1. Geological evidence of Holocene Event 3 in China Mountain glaciers are sensitive indicators of climatic change and are very likely to record important Holocene climatic changes. In the Dunde Ice Core of Mt. Qilian, a wide and shallow cold trough reected by the 18O curve that appeared around 4000 14C yr BP (Shi et al., 1993) (Fig. 3). This occurs at the same time as the advance of mountain glaciers in Heyuan, near Urumqi, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, with a 14C age of 40807150 yr BP and 39507140 14C yr BP (Chen, 1987), and the advance of the Congze glacier in the western Kunlun Mountains occurring at 39857120 14C yr BP for the moraine I till and 35207120 14C yr BP for the moraine II till (Zheng, 1990). Some continuous lacustrine sections ranging from the beginning to the late Holocene provide a good archival record of the regional climate evolution. In northwestern China, which lies beyond the present day monsoon domain (Wei and Gasse, 1999), several lakes in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau including Bangong (Fontes et al., 1996), Sumxi (Gasse et al., 1991; Fontes et al., 1993), and Manas in Northern Xinjiang (Rhodes et al., 1996), record a cooling spell about 45003500 calendar yr BP (Gasse and van Campo, 1994). These results have been supported by a recent study of oxygen isotope records on these three lakes listed above (Wei and Gasse, 1999). The arid and semiarid areas of northern and western China on the margins of the East Asian Monsoon region are very sensitive to climatic changes. Encroachments or retreats of precipitation associated with the summer monsoon would be expected to be manifested in the geological record. In the transitional zone between the Tengger Desert and the Qilian Montains of the northeastern Tibetan Plateau, multidisciplinary studies of a section dating from 8500 to 3000 calendar yr BP have recorded several warm-humid and cold-dry periods, which have been attributed to the strengthening and weakening of the summer monsoon circulation and

which appear to be closely connected with global climatic changes. One of these cold-dry periods occurred between 4300 and 3740 calendar yr BP (Zhang et al., 2000). In the Minqin Basin, located in the arid northwestern China but within the present day East Asian Monsoon domain, studies of proxies of magnetic susceptibility, particle size and chemical composition on a 6 m long core (16,000 yr BP) from Lake Yiema indicate that the moist period of the early and middle Holocene ended around 4500 calendar yr BP (Chen et al., 1999) (Fig. 3). This coincides with expansion of the deserts in northwestern China during the late Holocene (Zhu and Chen, 1994). Located within the present day East Asian Monsoon domain, Qinghai and Selin Lakes in the Tibetan Plateau clearly record the 4000 yr BP climatic change. In Qinghai Lake, oxygen stable-isotope and pollen studies on two cores clearly show that the lake level, which reached its rst maximum shortly before 9.5 calendar yr BP dropped signicantly after 4500 calendar yr BP (Lister et al., 1991). In Selin Lake, chemical and mineralogical analyses including MgO/Cao, d18O, d13C and carbonates indicate that the interval from 4200 to 3400 14C yr BP is characterized by a maximum cold and dry interval, which signies the end of the Holocene optimum (Gu et al., 1993). In the Zoige Plateau, which is very sensitive to changes in the East Asian climate because of its location close to the boundary of the southeast and southwest Indian monsoons, lacustrine deposits containing a 30,000 year climatic sequence of pollen and stable-isotope records also indicate that the Holocene Optimum started at 9.4 calendar yr BP and ended at 4500 calendar yr BP (Yan et al., 1999). The farminggrazing transitional zone of Inner Mongolia, north China, driven by uctuations in East Asian monsoon rainfall, is also one of the ecotones sensitive to global changes. Many geological records indicate that 4500 calendar yr BP is a marker for the ending of Holocene optimum (Zhang et al., 1997). For example, Daihai Lake, an endoreic system, lies in the transitional zone between semihumid and semiarid areas. Multidisciplinary studies including analyses of lake terraces, lacustrine deposits, and biological and geochemical as well as 14C dating, indicate that the highest lake level lasted from 8500 to 4500 calendar yr BP, corresponding to the Holocene Climatic Optimum. After about 4500 calendar yr BP, the level of Daihai Lake rapidly dropped and never attained its former level, signifying the end of the Holocene Optimum (An et al., 1991) (Fig. 4). At Diaojiaohaizi Lake, located on the top of the Daqing Mountain, Inner Mongolia, analyses of sporopollen samples, geochemical studies, and 14C dating of sediment in the section show that the Holocene Optimum ended about 4500 calendar yr BP (Yang, 2001). A similar result is indicated by the

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Lake level (m)

150 100 ? 50 0 112 100 80 60 40 20 0 -20 20 0 -20 0 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 8 6 4 2 0 25 20 15 16 8
Summer Winter


Lake level (m)


Lake level (m)


Lake level (m)

Pulleniatina Water temperature (C) Humid index (%) obliquiloculata/%



(f )



12 Ka BP.

! Lake (Gasse, 2000); (b) African Ziway-Shala-System (Gasse, 2000); (c) Daihai Fig. 4. Correlation of the 4000 yr BP climatic event. (a) African Abhe Lake, Inner Mongolia (An et al., 1991); (d) Yema Lake, Minqing Basin (Chen et al., 1999); (e) Arid and semiarid areas of China (Guo, 1996); (f) Rc26-16 core (Wei et al., 1998); (g) 255 core (Jian et al., 1996).

well-dated sporopollen record of a peat section located in a nearby area (Wang and Sun, 1997). Further northwestward to the Honton-nur, a fresh-water lake, located in the northwestern Mongolian Altai, radiocarbondated pollen and diatom records on two cores clearly indicate that attenuation of East Asian Monsoon caused a climatic regime that was wetter than today to an end around 4500 calendar yr BP (Tarasov et al., 2000). Further southeastward in Central China, a 14C dated magnetic susceptibility record on a loess section at Fengyang on the Loess Plateau, Shanxi Province, clearly

documents several cooling events during the Holocene, the most severe of which occurred about 4500 calendar yr BP (Zhang, 2001). In Huailai County, Hebei Province, north China, pollen and oxygen isotope records on a well-dated peat core clearly indicate an exceptional cooling episode at 46004200 calendar yr BP (Jin and Liu, 2002). In Northeast China, well-dated pollen records indicate a drier/cooler episode at 4000 3500 calendar yr BP characterized by a decrease in the annual pollen ux and the number of tree and shrub assemblages (Liu, 1989).

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This climatic event is also well documented in South China. Pollen evidence from four cores in the Jianghan Plain clearly record several cold intervals, among which the 45004300 calendar yr BP event either represents the coldest period during the Holocene or marks the end of the Holocene optimum in this area (Tang et al., 1996). This result was supported by a recent, well-dated pollen record on a 50 m core in the center of the Jianghan Plain (Yang et al., 1998). In the Yangtze River Delta, paleontological evidence from a 52 m core from Qidong clearly shows that Pinus (pines) and Quercus (oaks) became more abundant after 4200 calendar yr BP, indicating a climatic cooling (Liu et al., 1992). The most compelling evidence for the 4000 yr BP event is derived from oceanic drill cores. Variations in the occurrence of the foramanifer Pulleniatina obliquiloculata in the Okinawa Trough (Jian et al., 2000) and the South China Sea (Jian et al., 1996) show that the most conspicuous decrease in this warm-water species during the Holocene occurred from 4500 to 2500 calendar yr BP. This 45002500 calendar yr BP decline, termed as Pulleniatina Minimum Event (Jian et al., 1996), was interpreted to be possibly related to cooling winter SST, and correlated probably to the neoglacial cooling (Jian et al., 1996, 2000). In the northeastern South China Sea, sea cores record a short cooling event at about 4500 calendar yr BP (Wei et al., 1998) (Fig. 4). This decline in temperatures between 4500 and 2400 calendar yr BP has also been noted by several authors studying the Atlantic and Pacic (Boltovskoy, 1990). Paleontological research has also shown that the Holocene Optimum ended about 4500 yr BP. Decreasing temperatures caused contraction of deciduous forests and expansion of coniferous forests and grasslands in north China, a decrease of evergreen forests in south China, and a decrease or even a disappearance of forests in Tibet and Inner Mongolia (Sun and Chen, 1991). Other syntheses on Holocene climate in China also indicate that environmental deterioration occurred around 4500 calendar yr BP (Shi et al., 1993; Zhou et al., 1991; Feng et al., 1993). Recently, 158 dates on paleosols and lake sediments from arid and semiarid regions in northern China have demonstrated that the most severe aridity during Holocene culminated at about 4000 calendar yr BP, with a aptitude comparable to that of glacial conditions (Guo et al., 2000) (Fig. 4). It appears that the 4000 yr BP climatic event is well manifested in many geological records. Among the records selected, slight differences in the timing and amplitude of maximum aridity may be due to regional factors, and/or uncertainties in the proxy data. These records collectively indicate that, within the respective dating uncertainties, Chinaespecially the East Asian Monsoon domainexperienced the 4000 yr BP climatic cooling event, supporting the hypotheses that this late Holocene drought episode was of global signicance

(Gasse and van Campo, 1994; Perry and Hsu, 2000; deMenocal, 2001). For example, archaeological evidence indicates that the years 40003900 yr BP were the coldest and most arid in western Asia (Weiss et al., 1993; Cullen et al., 2000). In the north Atlantic, there occurred a widespread cooling episode, during which Atlantic subpolar and subtropical surface waters cooled by 12 C (Bond et al., 1997; deMenocal et al., 2000). Varves from Swiss lakes indicate that Alpine glaciers became widespread during this ice age (Hsu, 1998), supporting the formal inception of a Neoglacial Period since 4000 yr BP in Europe (Lamb, 1977). In eastern Europe, Russia, and their surrounding areas, climate became colder after 4500 calendar yr BP (for a compilation see Krementski, 1997). This severe drought episode has been well identied throughout Africa (Gasse and Van Campo, 1994; Guo et al., 2000; Gasse, 2000). In the New World, a dust spike preserved in a Peruvian mountain glacier marks a major drought occurring about 2200 BC in the Amazon Basin and is by far the largest such event of the past 17,000 years (Kerr, 1998). A particularly interesting fact is the synchronicity of these cooling event at a global scale, strongly suggesting large scale disequilibrium in the Earths climate system (Gasse and van Campo, 1994). The forcing mechanisms that brought about the abrupt climatic changes of the Holocene are ongoing subjects of debate. Recent studies suggest that the 4000 yr BP climatic event may be one of several widespread cooling events during the Holocene (Bond et al., 1997; deMenocal et al., 2000; Allen et al., 2002), and may be forced by variations of solar output (Bond et al., 2001). The East Asian Monsoon areas of China also experienced nonorbital millennial-scaled climatic events during the Holocene (see e.g., Guo et al., 2000; Jian et al., 2000; Zhou et al., 2002), and several climatic changes including the 4000 yr BP event could be temporally correlated to Bond Events (Jian et al., 2000; Zhou et al., 2002), suggesting that the 4000 yr BP event is one of several Holocene climatic events and was possibly controlled by a similar forcing agent. This model could not account, however, for the intensity of the 4000 yr BP event, especially its being a marker of the ending of Holocene Optimum. The severity of this event is well reected by variations of in lake levels throughout the East Asian Monsoon marginal regions of China. At many sites, although the there were differences in the timing of inception of the high lake levels, the ending of high lake level came were synchronized at about 4500 yr BP. Following this event were several wet phases but of much lower amplitude. Similar changes occurred in north and western summer monsoon marginal areas (Gasse and van Campo, 1994; Gasse, 2000; Guo et al., 2000). Other compilation studies also indicate that this cooling event was not only the coldest episode during the Holocene but

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signied the change from the early Holocene Climatic Optimum to late Holocene alternations of little climatic optima and little ice ages (Hsu, 1998; Perry and Hsu, 2000). This transition from mid-Holocene to modern climate, thought to be triggered by variations in insolation related to Earths orbital parameters (Claussen et al., 1999), have been inferred from the Holocene climatic records from China (Van Campo and Gasse, 1993; Gasse et al., 1996; Wei et al., 1998; Tarasov et al., 2000). However, the smooth variations in orbital parameters through the Holocene could not account for the noticeable climatic change around 4500 yr BP (Gasse and van Campo, 1994; Gasse et al., 1996; Gasse, 2000; Claussen et al., 1999). Positive feedback mechanisms from the ocean, vegetation cover and soil moisture are thought to be required to account for observed changes (Claussen et al., 1999; Gasse, 2000). For example, climatic modeling in the Sahara (Claussen et al., 1999) indicates that the middle Holocene transition to desertication of the Saharan and Arabian regions was triggered by subtle variations in the Earths orbit which were strongly amplied by atmospherevegetation feedback in the subtropics. The timing of this transition was mainly governed by a global interplay between atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, and vegetation. Similar mechanisms may also be applied to explain the evolution of the East Asian monsoon during the Holocene. We suggest that the environmental characteristics marking the ending of the Holocene Optimum in China around 4500 yr BP may have resulted from the combined effects of the 4000 yr BP climatic cooling episode and its superimposition on the middle-Holocene transitions resulting from the long-term East Asian Monsoon variations amplied by feedback phenomena. 4.2. The environmental effects of the 4000 yr BP cooling event The 4000 yr BP climatic event is rst manifested by a decrease in temperature. Comparison with other parts of the world indicates that Holocene Event 3 has had different regional expressions and different environmental effects. In the Mediterranean area, for example, this cooling event lead to a drought spell, during which changes in westerlies and monsoon rainfall resulted in precipitation reductions of up to 30% (Weiss and Raymond, 2001). A similar drought effect was seen in Mesopotamia and North Africa (Weiss, 2000). In North and Middle Europe, however, the 4000 yr BP climatic cooling event brought not aridity, but increased precipitation, which caused lake dwellers in northern Europe to abandon their ooded settlements (Hsu, 1998). What were the environmental effects of Holocene Event 3 on the East Asian Monsoon domain?

Generally it was thought that a cooling interval associated with weakening of East Asian Monsoon would bring a dry interval across the monsoon domain. But the East Asian Monsoon climate dynamic is very complicated (An, 1999; An et al., 2000). During Holocene Event 3, lake levels, especially those in lakes of the East Asian Monsoon marginal belt such as Qinghai (Liu et al., 1992), Daihai (An et al., 1991), Yema (Chen et al., 1999) and Seling (Gu et al., 1993), dropped sharply after 4500 yr BP, indicating a drought spell. However, the same period in southern China can be related to wetness and a ooding interval, not drought. Geological and hydrological studies show that the water bodies of some big lakes in the middle-lower Yangtze River basin, such as Poyang, Dongting and Taihu Lakes were forming or expanding during this period (An et al., 1991). Recent correlation of core sections on the Yangtze River delta plain suggests the same result (Stanley and Chen, 1996; Stanley et al., 1999). Hydrological records from the middle Yangtze River Valley also indicate the same environmental effects. Multiple analyses including those of sporepollen assemblages and 14C age determinations on a 50 m core indicate that the period from 3900 to 1700 14C yr BP witnessed rapid drop in temperature but a higher effective humidity, suggesting a possible expanding of fresh water bodies (Yang et al., 1998). Stratigraphical studies of the same core indicated that the Yunmentze (paleoswamp) in the middle Yangtze river valley was expanding during this period (Yang et al., 1998). This phenomenon has been conrmed by archaeological surveys. It has been noted that many Shijiahe and Liangzhu Neolithic sites in the middle and lower Yangtze river valley were either submerged under lake water or buried by marsh peat in the late third millennium BC (Wu and Wu, 1998; Stanley et al., 1999), which may suggest an expansion of land water bodies during the late third millennium BC. It seems that the Holocene Event 3 brought a wet interval to southern China, as compared to the drought experience in the northern China. 4.3. Mechanism of the 4000 yr BP environmental change It has been known that climate and environment are controlled mainly by the activities of East Asia monsoon (An et al., 2000). The evolution of the environmental framework of drought in the north and ooding in the south of China is closely related to the retreat of summer monsoon front, resulting from a climatic anomaly during the Holocene Event 3. It was generally thought that a climatic pattern of either cold-dryness or warm-wetness prevailed during this period. However, environmental changes of the Holocene period do not necessarily manifest themselves similarly in different regions. It has been known that precipitation associated

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with the East Asian monsoon is produced by the interaction along the monsoon front of northwardmoving moist summer monsoon air and a northern mass of cooler air (An et al., 2000). The relationship between anomalies of the summer monsoon and the distribution of accompanying drought or ooding shows regional features, including variations in the amount of precipitation in different areas. The strengthening or weakening of the East Asian Monsoon did not result in an increase or decrease in precipitation, respectively, in all areas inuenced by it. In fact, only over those areas where the monsoon front stayed longer did precipitation increase (Liu et al., 1996), leading to possible ooding or water-logging calamities. On a time-scale of 104 years or more, variations of the East Asian Monsoon were controlled mainly by variations of solar insolation related to changes in the Earths orbital parameters (Kutzbach and Guetter, 1986; Wright et al., 1993). Based on the syntheses of vast geological data and numerical modeling, An et al. (2000) suggested that the spatial and temporal distribution of summer monsoon precipitation during the Holocene was asynchronous in the East Asian Monsoon domain. They interpreted this phenomenon as follows: With summer solar radiation in the Northern Hemisphere reaching its maximum about 11,00010,000 calendar yr BP, the northernmost frontal zone of monsoon rainfall advanced northward to cause a peak in precipitation there. As Northern Hemisphere seasonality weakened, a corresponding weakening of the summer monsoon caused the northernmost frontal zone to retreat, resulting in a lengthened interval of high precipitation in broad regional belt. It has been demonstrated that high precipitation reached its peak at 10,0007000 calendar yr BP ago in north-central and northern eastcentral China, 70005000 calendar yr BP ago in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and 3000 calendar yr BP ago in southern China (An et al., 2000). However, the geologic records and numerical models give only a general trend of variations of East Asian monsoon precipitation and dont take into account the environmental effects brought by the 4000 yr BP climatic event. Our syntheses on geological data suggest that a contrasting environmental framework of drought in the north and ooding in south came about around 4500 calendar yr BP. Former syntheses indicated that the abrupt transition from early middle Holocene Optimum to the modern climate regime around 4500 calendar yr BP was triggered by variations in Earths orbital parameters, which were amplied by atmospherevegetation feedback (Claussen et al., 1999). We suggest that the pattern of drought in the north and ooding in the south around 4000 yr BP could be mainly the result of a middle Holocene climatic transition. On the other hand, a 4000 yr BP event independent of the long variation in the East Asian monsoon would

also generate impacts on the distribution of the summer monsoon rain belt across eastern China. Variability in the intensity of the summer monsoon is closely related to the rainfall anomaly in eastern China. It has been noted that the anomaly of summer rainfall in northern China was usually reversed relative to that over the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River Valley (Wang et al., 1981), i.e., in years with a strong summer monsoon, the rain belt will advance into North China after a rather short time, resulting in abundant precipitation there and in sharp precipitation decit over southern China. In contrast, in years with a weak monsoon, the summer monsoon front will stagnate in the Yangtze River valley for a long time, causing a large amount of rainfall in southern China but drought conditions in northern China (Shi and Zhu, 1996; Tao and Chen, 1987). For example, in 1982 and 1983 there was severe drought in northern China, while in the Yangtze River valley the rainfall was above normal (Tao and Chen, 1987). Studies of seasonal (An et al., 2000), interannual (Zhang and Li, 1994; Shi and Zhu, 1996; Zhao, 1999), and interdecadal variability (Zhu and Wang, 2001) in the relationships between variations of summer monsoon intensity and the distribution of anomalies of monsoon rain belts demonstrate the same result. Wang et al. (1981) suggested that the movement of the position of the rain belt over the east of China might be related closely to variations in solar activity. Recent studies (Bond et al., 2001) suggest the millennium-scale uctuations of temperature were related to variations of solar output. Analysis of precipitation records from 160 stations in China and global temperature during the period of from 1951 to 1991 indicates that the response of precipitation distribution patterns in China to global temperature has relevance to the intensity of uctuation of the summer monsoon in eastern China. That is, that monsoon precipitation is positive to variations of global temperature in northern China, and is negative in southern China (Zhang and Li, 1994). Zhang and Li (1994) suggested that uctuations in global climate could inuence the distribution pattern of monsoon precipitation over eastern China through inuencing the variation of intensity of the East Asian monsoon. The monsoon regime is formed as a result of thermal differences between the Asian landmass and the Pacic Ocean (An, 1999; An et al., 2000). It is likely that increase in temperature will strengthen the thermal contrast between the warmer Asian continent and the colder Pacic Ocean, resulting in the monsoon front moving northward and inland and thus leading to an increase in precipitation there. By contrast, a cooling period associated with the attenuation of the summer monsoon will lead to a decrease in precipitation in northern China, but an increase in precipitation in southern China due to prolonged inuence of the frontal systems there (Zhang and Li, 1994). During the

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Holocene, the summer insolation anomaly around 4500 yr BP was higher than today, thus resulting in increased precipitation in northern China as reected by high lake levels in the northern monsoon marginal areas. Cooling during the period of the 4000 yr BP event would have caused the monsoon front to retreat and would have resulted in prolonged precipitation in southern China. So the environmental framework of drought in the North and ooding in the South may have been produced by the combined effects of the 4000 yr BP climatic cooling episode and its superimposition on the middle-Holocene transition, which resulted from longterm East Asian monsoon variations.

5. Social effects of Holocene Event 3 Placing Neolithic cultural change within the context of detailed and well-dated Holocene paleoclimate records underscores the important role of 4000 yr BP event on the profound social transformation seen in China in the late third millennium BC. However, the response of human communities in various regions corresponds to the nature of the environmental challenge brought by the Holocene Event 3. The Qijia and Laohushan Cultures inhabited marginal dry-land steppe in the Upper Yellow River Valley and southern Inner Mongolia, respectively. Both of these regions were characterized by arid or semiarid climate with high interannual variability. Their rain-based agricultural was inuenced to a great degree by climatic uctuations. With the attenuation of the strength of the East Asian monsoon after 4500 yr BP, the monsoon rain belt retreated southeastward, resulting in a long interval of drought. Although their dry-farming subsistence cropmilletwas resistant to cold and drought climatic conditions, long periods of drought would have certainly resulted in reduction of yields. The effect of drought on economic conditions may be appreciated by the relationship between droughts and economic subsistence in Odors, in south-central middle Inner Mongolia, which was inhabited by peoples of the Laohushan Culture. The relationship between the humidity index and alternations from agriculture to pastoralism in the past 2000 years shows that when drought prevailed pastoralism displaced the original dry-farming agriculture (Cheng, 1993; Gong, 1996) (Fig. 5). On the other hand, the 4000 yr BP event is a cooling event characterized by temperatures being lowered as much as 23 C in the Inner Mongolia region (Zhang et al., 1997). The lowered average annual temperatures and especially the decrease in number of frost-free days per year would have had a negative effect on agricultural productivity. This severe drought combined with the drop in temperature would have resulted in a decrease in dry-farming productivity in the fragile

present semiarid environment where the Qijia and Laoshushan people inhabited, thus leading to abandonment of the region, the replacement of an agricultural subsistence base by pastoralism, and the eventual collapse of dry-farming agriculture systems. In south China and the Lower Yellow River Valley where Shandong Longshan Culture was distributed, long periods of ooding or water-logging conditions were the main factors leading to collapse of Neolithic cultures. Flood and water-logging will raise underground water level, leading to the saturation of soils. This situation, in turn, causes a decit in oxygen for plant root systems. Although rice is a swamp-like crop, long intervals of plants being submerged under water, especially in the harvest season, would have resulted in sharp declines in production or even crop failure and heavy loss of life (Zhang, 1994). Ancient people without sophisticated tools could immigrate to higher places to avoid one or even multiple incidents of ooding, but could not suffer sustained periods (possible hundreds of years) of ooding or water-logging. So it was a long interval of ooding that resulted in the decline in production and, in the end, the destruction of their agricultural systems. It has been previously suggested that the ooding was caused by the strengthening of East Asian monsoon (Zhu et al., 1997; Stanley et al., 1999). However, our study indicates that this ooding episode is synchronous with the drought interval in north China, and is related to a longer persistence of the monsoon rain belt in the south which resulted both from Holocene Event 3 and the longer-term variations in the evolution of the East Asian monsoon. On the other hand, the impact of disasters that resulted from cooling-induced climatic instability on agriculture should not be ignored. It has been found that the impact of climatic instability on society during the period of climatic anomalies is higher than during normal climatic periods. Climatic instability represented by disasters such as drought, ooding and cold damages will be more severe than under normal climatic conditions (Zheng and Feng, 1985). Many researchers have stressed the fact that the China suffered from an unstable climate during historical cold stages. For example, studies on historical data show that the Little Ice Age was a period of climatic extremes. It is not unreasonable to assume that the cooling period during the Holocene Event 3 would also witness a greater climatic instability that may inuence agricultural productivity and the fate of many Neolithic societies. Although environmental change had an undeniable impact on the complex agriculturally based societies around Central China, human responses to these episodes of agricultural stress varied and the relationship between climatic changes to cultural transformations is very complicated. The 4000 yr BP climatic event, which led to the collapse of three of the oldest

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1.6 agriculture 1.4 pastoralism agriculture pastoralism agriculture


Humid index

1.2 1.0 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0 250 500 750 1000 1250 1500 1750 2000

Fig. 5. Relationship between the alternation of agriculture and pastoralism with variations in the humidity index in the semiarid Ordos area for the past 2000 years (after Gong, 1996).

civilizations, could also have had positive effects. For example, in coastal areas of Peru, the severe drought may have promoted the replacement of sea food by agriculture (Kerr, 1998), which may be of great signicance for the rise of civilization. In Crete in the Aegean Sea, this period witnessed not a collapse but the emergence of the state-level Old Palace Civilization (Manning, 1997). Another climatic event around 5500 yr BP also coincides with the emergence of complexity across much of the world (Sandweiss et al., 1996). In the Central Plain of China, this climatic change witnessed not cultural collapse but cultural leap development toward more complex society. Preliminary study suggests that this climatic change may have facilitated the emergence of Chinese civilization or the rise of dynastic state-level society because warfare intensied as population pressure increased in the more environmental circumscribed agricultural lands produced by Holocene Event 3 (Wu and Liu, 2001). In the Laoxi area, the Xiaoheyan Culture was under less development throughout the 45004000 yr BP. Recent study suggest that a severe climatic change episode from 4600 to 4200 was responsible for the decline of Xiaoheyan Culture (Jin and Liu, 2002), but could not account for the transition from Xiaoheyan to a more developed Lower Xiajiadian Culture around 4000 yr BP. It seems that more well-dated archaeological and geological records are needed to shed light on how cultural transformations occurred in response to climate changes. Another interesting question is the apparent time lag between the Holocene Event 3 and the aforementioned Neolithic cultural transformations. Geological data indicate that the Holocene Event 3 may have commenced as early as 4500 calendar yr BP, but that the Neolithic cultural transformations occurred about 42004000 calendar yr BP. ago, lagging behind the climatic anomaly by several hundred years. This situation is also observed in Africa. Climatic changes at the mid- to late Holocene transition also occurred around 4500 calendar yr BP (Gasse, 2000), several hundred years earlier than the collapse of Egyptian

civilization around 4000 yr BP. Two factors may have accounted for this phenomenon. The rst is the possible time lag representing the environmental response to climatic change. It has been found that a lag time of up to 300 years exists between climatic change and vegetation response (e.g., Bradley, 1999). This phenomenon is supported by a recent Holocene environmental study in Inner Mongolia. A well-studied section showed that climatic changes were reected in vegetational changes about 200 years later, according to geochemical evidence (Yang et al., 1998). It has been proposed that it also takes time for human societies to respond to environmental change (Liu, 2000). It is likely, therefore, that there exists a lag time between environmental and cultural changes. The second factor may be due to the fact that the Holocene Event 3 may have been initiated early but culminated in an interval coinciding with the cultural collapse that some scholars have demonstrated for Mesopotamia (Weiss et al., 1993; Cullen et al., 2000). Obviously, no matter what the situation may be, further study needs to be undertaken to determine the full magnitude and properties of the Holocene Event 3.

6. Concluding remarks Review of geological data from widely scattered sites across China points to a marked climatic anomaly during the late third millennium BC. This interval of severe climatic deterioration was synchronous with a climatic event during the late third millennium BC identied in many Northern Hemisphere sites. This anomaly shows two special characteristics. It is one of the several climatic events during the Holocene and marks the ending of Holocene Optimum. It is suggested that this climatic anomaly was independent of and superimposed upon Holocene monsoon variations. The combined affect altered the hydrological regime, resulting in a sharply contrasting environmental framework of drought in the north and ooding in the south of

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Acknowledgements This work was nancially supported by the 31st Postdoctoral Research Foundations. We are grateful to Professor Zhou Liping for critical comments and improvement of English in the manuscript. Special thanks also to Professor Lu . Houyuan and Professor Guo Zhengtang for their valuable suggestions and comments.

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