Skip to main content Accessibility help

Early–middle Holocene ecological change and its influence on human subsistence strategies in the Luoyang Basin, north-central China

  • Junna Zhang (a1), Zhengkai Xia (a2), Xiaohu Zhang (a3), Michael J. Storozum (a4), Xiaozhong Huang (a5), Jianye Han (a6), Hong Xu (a7), Haitao Zhao (a7), Yifu Cui (a5), John Dodson (a8) and Guanghui Dong (a5)...


In north-central China, subsistence practices transitioned from hunting and gathering to millet-based agriculture between the early and middle Holocene. To better understand how ancient environmental changes influenced this shift in subsistence strategies and human activities at regional to local levels, we conducted palynological and lithologic analyses on radiocarbon-dated sediment cores from the Luoyang Basin, western Henan Province. Our palynological results suggest that vegetation shifted from broad-leaved deciduous forest (9230–8850 cal yr BP) to steppe-meadow vegetation (8850–7550 cal yr BP), and then to steppe with sparse trees (7550–6920 cal yr BP). Lithologic analyses also indicate that the stabilization of the Luoyang Basin’s floodplain after ~8370 cal yr BP might have attracted people to move into the basin, promoting the emergence of millet-based agriculture during the Peiligang culture period (8500–7000 cal yr BP). Once agricultural practices emerged, the climatic optimum after ~7550 cal yr BP likely facilitated the expansion of the Yangshao culture (7000–5000 cal yr BP) in north-central China. As agriculture intensified, pollen taxa related to human disturbance, such as Urtica, increased in abundance.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding authors at: College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, No. 5 the Summer Palace Road, Haidian District, Beijing 100871, China (Z. Xia); MOE Key Laboratory of Western China’s Environmental Systems, College of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lanzhou University, South Tianshui Road 222, Lanzhou Gansu 730000, China (X. Huang). E-mail addresses: (Z. Xia); (X. Huang).


Hide All
Barber, D.C., Dyke, A., Hillaire-Marcel, C., Jennings, A.E., Andrews, J.T., Kerwin, M.W., Bilodeau, G., et al., 1999. Forcing of the cold event of 8,200 years ago by catastrophic drainage of Laurentide lakes. Nature 400, 344348.
Barton, L., Newsome, S.D., Chen, F.H., Wang, H., Guilderson, T.P., Bettinger, R.L., 2009. Agricultural origins and the isotopic identity of domestication in northern China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106, 55235528.
Bar-Yosef, O., 2011. Climatic fluctuations and early farming in west and East Asia. Current Anthropology 52, 175193.
Bar-Yosef, O., Belfer-Cohen, A., 1992. From foraging to farming in the Mediterranean Levant. In: Gebauer, A.G., Price, T.D. (Eds.), Transitions to Agriculture in Prehistory. Prehistory Press, Madison, WI, pp. 2148.
Binford, L.R., 1968. Post-Pleistocene adaptations. In: Binford, S., Binford, L.R. (Eds.), New Perspectives in Archaeology. Aldine, Chicago, pp. 313341.
Blaauw, M., Christen, J.A., 2011. Flexible paleoclimate age-depth models using an autoregressive gamma process. Bayesian Analysis 6, 457474.
Brown, A.G., Carpenter, R.G., Walling, D.E., 2007. Monitoring fluvial pollen transport, its relationship to catchment vegetation and implications for palaeoenvironmental studies. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 147, 6076.
Bureau of National Cultural Relics. 1991. Atlas of Chinese Cultural Relics – Fascicule of Henan Province [In Chinese]. China Cartograghic Publishing House Press, Beijing, pp. 132.
Cao, X.Y., Xu, Q.H., Jing, Z.C., Tang, J.G., Li, Y.C., Tian, F., 2010. Holocene climate change and human impacts implied from the pollen records in Anyang, central China. Quaternary International 227, 39.
Chen, F.H., Bloemendal, J., Wang, J.M., Li, J.J., Oldfield, F., 1997. High-resolution multi-proxy climate records from Chinese loess, evidence for rapid climatic changes over the last 75 kyr. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 130, 323335.
Chen, F.H., Dong, G.H., Zhang, D.J., Liu, X.Y., Jia, X., An, C.B., Ma, M.M., et al., 2015a. Agriculture facilitated permanent human occupation of the Tibetan Plateau after 3600 BP. Science 347, 248250.
Chen, F.H., Xu, Q.H., Chen, J.H., Birks, H.J., Liu, J.B., Zhang, S.R., Jin, L.Y., et al., 2015b. East Asian summer monsoon precipitation variability since the last deglaciation. Scientific Reports 5, 11186.
Chen, S.Q., 2006. Adaptive changes of hunter-gatherers during the late Pleistocene–early Holocene transition in China. [In Chinese] Acta Anthropologica Sinica 25, 195207.
Childe, V.G., 1928. The Most Ancient East: The Oriental Prelude to European Prehistory. Kegan Paul, London.
Childe, V.G., 1936. Man Makes Himself. Pitman, London.
Cohen, D.J., 2011. The beginnings of agriculture in china. Current Anthropology 52, S273S306.
Crawford, G.W., Shen, C., 1998. The origins of rice agriculture: recent progress in East Asia. Antiquity 72, 858866.
Dearing, J., 1994. Environmental Magnetic Susceptibility: Using the Bartington MS2 System. Chi, Kenilworth, UK.
Debusk, G.H., 1997. The distribution of pollen in the surface sediments of Lake Malawi, Africa, and the transport of pollen in large lakes. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 97, 123153.
Dong, J.G., Wang, Y.J., Cheng, H., Hardt, B., Edwards, R.L., Kong, X.G., Wu, J.Y., et al. 2010. A high-resolution stalagmite record of the Holocene East Asian monsoon from Mt Shennongjia, central China. Holocene 20, 257264.
Dykoski, C.A., Edwards, R.L., Cheng, H., Yuan, D.X., Cai, Y.J., Zhang, M.L., Lin, Y.S., Qing, J.M., An, Z.S., Revenaugh, J., 2005. A high-resolution, absolute-dated Holocene and deglacial Asian monsoon record from Dongge Cave, China. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 233, 7186.
Erlitou Team of IA, CASS (Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). 2005. Archaeological investigation report in Luoyang Basin between 2001-2003, Henan Province. [In Chinese], Archaeology 5, 1837.
Faegri, K., Iversen, J., 1989. Textbook of Pollen Analysis. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, UK.
Fuller, D.Q., Qin, L., Zheng, Y., Zhao, Z., Chen, X., Hosoya, L.A., Sun, G.P., 2009. The domestication process and domestication rate in rice: spikelet bases from the Lower Yangtze. Science 323, 16071610.
The Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, 2006. Dadiwan in Qin’an – Reports on Excavations at a Neolithic Site. [In Chinese] Cultural Relics Publishing House, Beijing.
Grimm, E.C., 1987. CONISS: a FORTRAN 77 program for stratigraphically constrained cluster analysis by the method of incremental sum of squares. Computers and Geosciences 13, 1335.
Guo, Y.Z., Zhao, H.L., Yang, H.B., Wang, Z.M., 2012. Analysis of precipitation change in Henan Province over the past 49 years. [In Chinese], Yellow River 34, 4648.
Hall, S.A., 1989. Pollen analysis and paleoecology of alluvium. Quaternary Research 31, 435438.
Han, J.Y., 2015. Early China: The Making of the Chinese Cultural Sphere [In Chinese]. Shanghai Guji Press, Shanghai.
Hao, Z.X., Zheng, J.Y., Ge, Q.S., 2007. Precipitation cycles in the middle and lower Yellow River. [In Chinese], Acta Geographica Sinica 62, 537544.
Hou, G.L., Xiao, J.Y., 2011. Abrupt climate change and origin of Chinese agriculture from the end of late Pleistocene to early Holocene. [In Chinese], Tropical Geography 31, 119124.
Hu, G., Huang, C., Zhou, Y., Pang, J., Zha, X., Guo, Y., Zhang, Y., Zhao, X., 2015. Hydrological reconstruction of Holocene palaeofloods and historical floods in the Longmen Gorge of the Yihe River. [In Chinese], Acta Geographica Sinica 70, 11651176.
Hu, Y., Ambrose, S.H., Wang, C.S., 2006. Stable isotopic analysis of human bones from Jiahu site, Henan, China: implications for the transition to agriculture. Journal of Archaeological Science 33, 13191330.
Hu, Y., Ambrose, S.H., Wang, C.S., 2007. Stable isotopic analysis on ancient human bones in Jiahu site. Science in China Series D: Earth Science 50, 563570.
Huang, X., Meyers, P.A., Jia, C., Zheng, M., Xue, J., Wang, X., Xie, S., 2013. Paleotemperature variability in central China during the last 13 ka recorded by a novel microbial lipid proxy in the Dajiuhu peat deposit. Holocene 23, 11231129.
Huang, X.Z., Liu, S.S., Dong, G.H., Qiang, M.R., Bai, Z.J., Zhao, Y., Chen, F.H., 2017. Early human impacts on vegetation on the northeastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau during the middle to late Holocene. Progress in Physical Geography 41, 286301.
Ji, Y.P., Xia, Z.K., 2007. Comparison and primarily interpretation of magnetic susceptibilities in different sediments. [In Chinese], Acta Geoscientica Sinica 28, 541549.
Lee, G.A., Crawford, G.W., Liu, L., Chen, X.C., 2007. Plants and people from the Early Neolithic to Shang periods in North China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104, 10871092.
Lev-Yadun, S., Gopher, A., Abbo, S., 2000. The cradle of agriculture. Science 288, 16021603.
Li, W.Y., Liang, Y.L., 1985. Vegetation and environment of the hypsithermal interval of Holocene in the eastern Hebei Plain. [In Chinese], Acta Botanica Sinica 27, 640651.
Li, Y.Y., Cui, H.T., Zhou, L.P., 2008. Pollen indicators of human activity. Chinese Science Bulletin 53, 12811293.
Lin, Y., 2000. Flora of China, Vol. 6.2 [In Chinese]. Science Press, Beijing.
Liu, J., , H., Negendank, J., Mingram, J., Luo, X., Wang, W., Chu, G., 2000. Periodicity of Holocene climatic variations in the Huguangyan Maar Lake. Chinese Science Bulletin 45, 17121717.
Liu, L., 2004. The Chinese Neolithic: Trajectories to Early States. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Liu, X., Hunt, H.V., Jones, M.K., 2009. River valleys and foothills: changing archaeological perceptions of North China’s earliest farms. Antiquity 83, 8295.
Liu, X., Jones, M.K., Zhao, Z., Liu, G., O’Connell, T.C., 2012. The earliest evidence of millet as a staple crop: new light on Neolithic foodways in North China. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 149, 283290.
Maher, L.J., 1981. Statistics for microfossil concentration measurements employing samples spiked with marker grains. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 32, 153191.
Marcott, S.A., Shakun, J.D., Clark, P.U., Mix, A.C., 2013. A reconstruction of regional and global temperature for the past 11,300 years. Science 339, 11981201.
Nádor, A., Lantos, M., Tóth-Makk, Á., Thamó-Bozsó, E., 2003. Milankovitch-scale multi-proxy records from fluvial sediments of the last 2.6 Ma, Pannonian basin, Hungary. Quaternary Science Reviews 22, 21572175.
Peng, Y.J., Xiao, J., Nakamura, T., Liu, B.L., Inouchi, Y., 2005. Holocene East Asian monsoonal precipitation pattern revealed by grain-size distribution of core sediments of Daihai Lake in Inner Mongolia of north-central China. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 233, 467479.
Qiao, Y., 2010. Development of complex societies in the Yiluo region: a GIS based population and agricultural area analysis. [In Chinese], Acta Archaeologica Sinica 4, 423454.
Qin, J., Yuan, D., Cheng, H., Lin, Y., Zhang, M., Wang, F., Edwards, R.L., Hua, W., Ran, J., 2005. The Y. D. and climate abrupt events in the early and middle Holocene: stalagmite oxygen isotope record from Maolan, Guizhou, China. Science in China Series D: Earth Sciences 48, 530537.
Qin, L., 2012. Research and prospect for the origin of archaeology in China. In: School of Archaeology and Museology, Peking University, Journal of Archaeological Research (9th). [In Chinese]. Cultural Relics Press, Beijing, pp. 260315.
Reimer, P.J., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J.W., Blackwell, P.G., Bronk Ramsey, C., Buck, C.E., et al., 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55, 18691887.
Ren, X., Lemoine, X., Mo, D., Kidder, T.R., Guo, Y., Qin, Z., Liu, X., 2016. Foothills and intermountain basins: does China’s Fertile Arc have ‘Hilly Flanks’? Quaternary International 426, 8696.
Rosen, A., Macphail, R., Liu, L., Chen, X., Weisskopf, A., 2017. Rising social complexity, agricultural intensification, and the earliest rice paddies on the Loess Plateau of northern China. Quaternary International 437, 5059.
Rosen, A.M., 2007. The role of environmental change in the development of complex societies in China: a study from the Huizui site. Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Bulletin 27, 3948.
Rosen, A.M., 2008. The impact of environmental change and human land use on alluvial valleys in the Loess Plateau of China during the Middle Holocene. Geomorphology 101, 298307.
Royse, C.F., 1968. Recognition of fluvial environments by particle-size characteristics. Journal of Sedimentary Research 38, 11711178.
Shi, Y.F., Kong, Z.C., Wang, S.M., Tang, L.Y., Wang, F.B., Yao, T.D., Zhao, X.T., Zhang, P.Y., Shi, S.H., 1992. Climatic fluctuations and important events in Holocene megathermal period in China. [In Chinese], Science China: Series B 12, 13001308.
Storozum, M.J., Mo, D., Wang, H., Ren, X., Zhang, Y., Kidder, T.R., 2017. Anthropogenic origins of a late Holocene, basin-wide unconformity in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, the Luoyang Basin, Henan Province, China. Quaternary Research 87, 423441.
Tanno, K., Willcox, G., 2006. How fast was wild wheat domesticated? Science 311, 1886.
Walling, D.E., Moorehead, P.W., 1987. Spatial and temporal variation of the particle-size characteristics of fluvial sediment. Geografiska Annaler 69, 4759.
Wang, C., Lu, H., Zhang, J., He, K., Huan, X., 2016. Macro-process of past plant subsistence from the Upper Paleolithic to Middle Neolithic in China: a quantitative analysis of multi-archaeobotanical data. PLoS ONE 11, e0148136.
Wang, H., Chen, J., Zhang, X., Chen, F., 2014. Palaeosol development in the Chinese Loess Plateau as an indicator of the strength of the East Asian summer monsoon: evidence for a mid-Holocene maximum. Quaternary International 334, 155164.
Wang, N.L., Yao, T.D., Thompson, L.G., Henderson, K.A., Davis, M.E., 2002. Evidence for cold events in the early Holocene from the Guliya ice core, Tibetan Plateau, China. Chinese Science Bulletin 47, 14221427.
Wang, S.Y., Wang, Y.Z., Wang, Z.Y., Wang, Q., Jia, L.J., 1989. Characteristics of the vegetation in Henan Province. [In Chinese], Acta Agriculturae Universitatis Henanensis 23, 386392.
Wang, Y., Amundson, R., Trumbore, S., 1996. Radiocarbon dating of soil organic matter. Quaternary Research 45, 282288.
Wang, Y.J., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., He, Y.Q., Kong, X.G., An, Z.S., Wu, J.Y., Kelly, M.J., Dykoski, C.A., Li, X.D., 2005. The Holocene Asian monsoon: links to solar changes and North Atlantic climate. Science 308, 854857.
Wang, Y.P., Wang, S.Z., 2014. New achievements and perspectives on Paleolithic archaeology during the MIS3 along the eastern foot of Songshan Mountain, Henan Province. [In Chinese], Acta Anthropologica Sinica 33, 304314.
Xia, Z.K., Zhang, J.N., Zhang, X.H., 2014. Environment-climate studies. In: Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Eds.) Erlitou 1999–2006, Vol. 3. [In Chinese.]. Cultural Relics Press, Beijing, pp. 12391277.
Xiao, J.L., Wu, J.T., Si, B., Liang, W.D., Nakamura, T., Liu, B.L., Inouchi, Y., 2006. Holocene climate changes in the monsoon/arid transition reflected by carbon concentration in Daihai Lake of Inner Mongolia. Holocene 16, 551560.
Xu, H., 2004. Review and discussion of the excavation and study of Erlitou site. [In Chinese]. Archaeology 11, 3238.
Xu, Q., Chen, F., Zhang, S., Cao, X., Li, J., Li, Y., Li, M., Chen, J., Liu, J., Wang, Z., 2017. Vegetation succession and East Asian summer monsoon changes since the last deglaciation inferred from high-resolution pollen record in Gonghai Lake, Shanxi Province, China. Holocene 27, 835846.
Xu, Q.H., Tian, F., Bunting, M.J., Li, Y.C., Ding, W., Cao, X.Y., 2012. Pollen source areas of lakes with inflowing rivers: modern pollen influx data from lake Baiyangdian, China. Quaternary Science Reviews 37, 8191.
Xu, Q.H., Xiao, J.L., Li, Y.C., Tian, F., Nakagawa, T., 2010. Pollen-based quantitative reconstruction of Holocene climate changes in the Daihai Lake area, Inner Mongolia, China. Journal of Climate 23, 28562868.
Xu, Q.H., Yang, X.L., Wang, Z.H., Wu, C., Meng, L.Y., 1995. Study on pollen transportation by rivers. [In Chinese]. Acta Botanica Sinica 37, 829832.
Xu, Q.H., Yang, X.L., Wu, C., Meng, L.Y., Wang, Z.H., 1996. Alluvial pollen on the North China Plain. Quaternary Research 46, 270280.
Yang, X.Y., Ma, Z.K., Li, J., Yu, J.C., Stevens, C., Zhuang, Y.J., 2015. Comparing subsistence strategies in different landscapes of North China 10,000 years ago. Holocene 25, 19571964.
Yang, X.Y., Wan, Z.W., Perry, L., Lu, H.Y., Wang, Q., Zhao, C.H., Li, J., et al., 2012. Early millet use in northern China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, 37263730.
Zhang, B.Y., Chen, C.Y., Wang, J.Y., 2007. Evolution of landforms in the plain of Luoyang Basins in Holocene [In Chinese], Journal of Xinyang Normal University: Natural Science Edition 20, 381384.
Zhang, D.J., Chen, F.H., Bettinger, R.L., Barton, L., Ji, D.X., Morgan, C., Wang, H., et al., 2010. Archaeological records of Dadiwan in the past 60 ka and the origin of millet agriculture. Chinese Science Bulletin 55, 887894.
Zhang, J.N., Xia, Z.K., 2011. Deposition evidences of the 4 ka BP flood events in Central China Plains. [In Chinese], Acta Geographica Sinica 5, 685697.
Zhang, J.N., Xia, Z.K., Zhang, X.H., 2014. Research on charred plant remains from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in Luoyang Basin. [In Chinese], Chinese Science Bulletin 59, 33883397.
Zhang, Y.H., Wong, Y., Yao, L., Zhang, J.Z., Zhou, Y.J., Fang, F., Cui, W., 2011. Identification and analysis of starch granules on the surface of the slabs from Peiligang site. [In Chinese], Quaternary Sciences 31, 891899.
Zhao, Y., Yu, Z., Chen, F., Zhang, J., Yang, B., 2009. Vegetation response to Holocene climate change in monsoon-influenced region of China. Earth-Science Reviews 97, 242256.
Zhao, Z.J., 2005. Archaeobotany and its recent advances. [In Chinese], Archaeology 7, 4249.
Zhao, Z.J., 2014. The process of origin of agriculture in China: archaeological evidence from flotation results. [In Chinese], Quaternary Sciences 34, 7384.
Zhou, X.H., Zhao, J.B., 2007. Climate change was indicated by the magnetic susceptibility in Gaoling Weihe River floodplain near 120 years. [In Chinese], Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 21, 196200.
Zhu, C., Chen, X., Zhang, G., Ma, C., Zhu, Q., Li, Z., Xu, W., 2008. Spore-pollen-climate factor transfer function and paleoenvironment reconstruction in Dajiuhu, Shennongjia, central China. Chinese Science Bulletin 53, 4249.
Zhu, C., Ma, C., Yu, S.-Y., Tang, L., Zhang, W., Lu, X., 2010. A detailed pollen record of vegetation and climate changes in central China during the past 16 000 years. Boreas 39, 6976.
Zhu, Y., Xie, Y., Cheng, B., Chen, F., Zhang, J., 2003. Pollen transport in the Shiyang River drainage, arid China. Chinese Science Bulletin 48, 14991506.


Early–middle Holocene ecological change and its influence on human subsistence strategies in the Luoyang Basin, north-central China

  • Junna Zhang (a1), Zhengkai Xia (a2), Xiaohu Zhang (a3), Michael J. Storozum (a4), Xiaozhong Huang (a5), Jianye Han (a6), Hong Xu (a7), Haitao Zhao (a7), Yifu Cui (a5), John Dodson (a8) and Guanghui Dong (a5)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed