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A Sediment-based Record Of Lateglacial And Holocene Environmental Changes From Guangfulin, Yangtze Delta, Eastern China

Freea Itzstein-Davey, Pia Atahan, John Dodson, David Taylor, Hongbo Zheng

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Multiproxies of past environmental conditions, comprising 53 sediment samples analysed for their lithostratigraphic properties (mainly their charcoal, phytoliths and pollen contents) from an AMS 14C-dated sequence of sediments accumulating at Guangfulin, Yangtze delta, are presented. The oldest sediments recovered date to the Lateglacial when a mosaic of mixed (conifer-deciduous) temperate forest and wetland vegetation characterized the study area. The Lateglacial—Holocene transition and much of the early Holocene record to c. 7400 yr BP appears to be missing from the sequence. The earliest evidence possibly representing human activities in the study area (the remains of cereals and indicators of forest) date to c. 7000 yr BP. A large increase in macrocharcoal remains c. 4700 yr BP is a more certain indication of human activities close to the study site, and may indicate the first occupation of what is now the location of a major archaeological excavation at Guangfulin. Technological changes during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770—221 BC) may be responsible for an increased abundance of rice ( Oryza sp.), and possibly also foxtail or Chinese millet ( Setaria italica), detected in the Guangfulin record after c. 2400 yr BP. An abrupt sedimentary change at c. 4000 yr BP may represent a short-lived episode of catchment instability. Aside from this, the sediment record from Guangfulin contains no evidence of dramatic environmental changes that could have led to a major decline in agricultural productivity c. 4000 yr BP, as has been suggested for the lower Yangtze by some researchers, who associate this with the cultural transition from Liangzhu to Maqiao. The findings do, however, add weight to the argument that developments in rice-based agriculture on the Yangtze delta varied both spatially and temporally.