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A Dramatic Climatic Transition At ~4000 Cal. Yr BP And Its Cultural Responses In Chinese Cultural Domains

Fenggui Liu, Zhaodong Feng

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Our review of recently published climatic proxy sequences shows that the most dramatic climate tranistion of the mid Holocene (~8500–~3500 cal. yr BP) occurred at the middle- to late-Holocene transition at ~4000 cal. yr BP. In northern China, an abrupt climatic shift at ~4000 cal. yr BP was recorded in the eastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau, in the western part of the Chinese Loess Plateau and in the vast Inner Mongolian Plateau. In southern China, the ~4000 cal. yr BP event was also abrupt, but it is expressed as one of several quasi-cyclic events in most of the records. We propose that the cumulative effects of insolation-dictated declining trend in tropical SST and the geologically documented increasing trend of ENSO activity were the first-order causes of the cooling and the associated drying during the past 6000 years. Superimposed on the first-order causes were the second-order causes, i.e. the additive effects of the ‘Bond Event 3’-associated lower insolation and the increasingly drying-resulted negative feedback of ‘air–land interactions’. The second-order causes made ~4000 cal. yr BP the tipping point when the resultant drying had destroyed many Chinese Neolithic cultures. Our review of published archaeological literature shows that six of the seven well-documented Chinese Neolithic cultures collapsed at ~4000 cal. yr BP with the exception of the Henan Longshan Culture that evolved to the more advanced Erlitou Culture. The indicators of the cultural collapse include (1) the number of archaeological sites was significantly reduced, (2) the quality of the archaeological artifacts of the succeeding culture is lower than that of the preceding culture, (3) more sophisticated architectures disappeared, and (4) agricultural cultures were replaced by pastoralism or by agro-pastoralism in northern China.