The Liangzhu Culture, referred to as “China’s Venice of the Stone Age” was the last Neolithic jade culture in the Yangtze River Delta of China.
The Liangzhu Culture emerged at the Liangzhu City site, a pan regional urban centre with a sphere of influence that stretched as far north as Shanxi and as far south as Guangdong.
The culture developed a monumental water culture, engineering advanced structures, hydraulics, and a complex system of navigable canals, dams and water reservoirs that made it possible to cultivate very large agricultural areas throughout the year.
The culture entered its prime about 4000–5000 years ago, but suddenly disappeared from the Taihu Lake area, leading to controversial theories on the collapse until now.
Christoph Spötl, head of the Quaternary Research Group at the Department of Geology said: “A thin layer of clay was found on the preserved ruins, which points to a possible connection between the demise of the advanced civilisation and floods of the Yangtze River or floods from the East China Sea. No evidence could be found for human causes such as warlike conflicts. However, no clear conclusions on the cause were possible from the mud layer itself.”
Dripstones store the answer
Caves and their deposits, such as dripstones, are among the most important climate archives that exist. They allow the reconstruction of climatic conditions above the caves stretching back over 100,000 years into the past.
Geologist Haiwei Zhang from Xi’an Jiaotong University in Xi’an took samples of stalagmites from the Shennong and Jiulong caves located southwest of the Liangzhu City site. The researchers analysed the isotope records of carbon, and determined the culture’s collapse around 4300 years ago by using a uranium-thorium analysis. Data from the stalagmites also showed that between 4345 and 4324 years ago there was a period of extremely high precipitation.
“The 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” said Zhang.