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The new study by an international team of researchers looked into an ancient city that was abandoned. But the reason why the city in the east of China, built over 5,300 years ago, suddenly saw its population vanish had baffled researchers, until now. Traces of the Liangzhu culture, from the Neolithic society from the end of the Stone Age, were left behind and discovered in the Yangtze River Delta. Researchers have said that the ruins of Liangzhu city show how advanced the culture was as a society, especially in agriculture and aquaculture.
They built sophisticated architectural structures and systems, including canals, dams, and water reservoirs, which has led to Liangzhu to be dubbed the Neolithic “Venice of the East”.
But when this was all lost, most researchers believe it was due to some sort of flooding.
Geologist Christoph Spötl from the University of Innsbruck in Austria said: “A thin layer of clay was found on the preserved ruins, which points to a possible connection between the demise of the advanced civilization and floods of the Yangtze River or floods from the East China Sea.
“However, no clear conclusions on the cause were possible from the mud layer itself.”
But the new study has given us a much clearer picture.
Prof Spötl and the team of researchers, led by Haiwei Zhang from Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, dug deeper than the ancient mud deposits.
They examined mineral formations from two underwater caves in the region, which preserve chemical signatures of climatic conditions from thousands of years ago.
The team’s analysis of the stalagmite samples revealed that the collapse of Liangzhu City coincided with a period of extreme precipitation that likely lasted for decades over 4,300 years ago.
Prof Spötl said: “This is amazingly precise in light of the temporal dimension,”
“Massive monsoon rains probably led to such severe flooding of the Yangtze and its branches that even the sophisticated dams and canals could no longer withstand these masses of water, destroying Liangzhu City and forcing people to flee.”
The research team claimed that previous instances of climate change in the Yangtze River Delta region may have also had an effect on other Neolithic cultures that lived in the area before the Liangzhu society appeared.
The researchers wrote in their study: “Archaeological studies show the presence of large-scale hydraulic complexes such as large earthen dams near the Liangzhu city, which were constructed between [5,300 and 4,700 years before present].
“This suggests that the Liangzhu society was effectively managing water resources by using hydraulic infrastructure for flood mitigation and/or irrigation to survive in a dry climate.”
And that dry climate got even worse after a suspected draught around 4,400 years ago, where it looks as though dam construction was stopped since the existing dams would have been enough during those dry conditions.
But after that period, the rain came down heavily, in two distinct burst periods between around 4,400–4,300 years ago.
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The researchers explained: “Our speleothem records, together with geochemical evidence of flood deposits above the Liangzhu culture layer, suggest that massive rainfall in the entire middle-lower reaches of the Yangtze River Valley might have induced fluvial flooding and/or overbank marine flooding transported by the Yangtze River plume and thus impeded human habitation and rice farming.
“Massive flooding and inundation due to poor drainage in the low-lying land may have forced the Liangzhu people to abandon their capital city and dwellings in the Taihu Plain, ultimately leading to the collapse of the entire Liangzhu civilization.”
The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.
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