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Hydroclimatic changes in south-central China during the 4.2 ka event and their potential impacts on the development of Neolithic culture

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 May 2022

Tianli Wang
State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an 710061, China University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China Institute of Global Environment Change, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an 710054, China
Dong Li
Library of Chang'an University, Xi'an 710064, China
Xing Cheng
Shaanxi Experimental Center of Geological Survey, Shaanxi Institute of Geological Survey, Xi'an 710054, China
Jianghu Lan
State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an 710061, China
R. Lawrence Edwards
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA School of Geography, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, China
Hai Cheng
State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an 710061, China Institute of Global Environment Change, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an 710054, China
Xingxing Liu
State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an 710061, China
Gang Xue
State Key Laboratory of Continental Dynamics, Department of Geology, Northwest University, Xi'an 710069, China
Hai Xu
Institute of Surface-Earth System Science, Tianjin University, Tianjin 300072, China
Le Ma
State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an 710061, China
Jingjie Zang
State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an 710061, China
Yaqin Wang
Xi'an Institute for Innovative Earth Environment Research, Xi'an 710061, China
Yongli Gao
Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas 78249, USA
Ashish Sinha
Department of Earth Science, California State University, Carson, California 90747, USA
Liangcheng Tan*
State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an 710061, China Institute of Global Environment Change, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an 710054, China
*Corresponding author at: State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi'an 710061, China. E-mail address: (L. Tan).


The 4.2 ka event is widely presumed to be a globally widespread aridity event and has been linked to several episodes of societal changes across the globe. Whether this climate event impacted the cultural development in south-central China remains uncertain due to a lack of regional paleorainfall records. We present here stalagmite stable carbon isotope and trace element–based reconstruction of hydroclimatic conditions from south-central China. Our data reveal a sub–millennial scale (~5.6 to 4.3 ka) drying trend in the region followed by a gradual transition to wetter conditions during the 4.2 ka event (4.3–3.9 ka). Together with the existing archaeological evidence, our data suggest that the drier climate before 4.3 ka may have promoted the Shijiahe culture, while the pluvial conditions during the 4.2 ka event may have adversely affected its settlements in low-lying areas. While military conflicts with the Wangwan III culture may have accelerated the collapse of Shijiahe culture, we suggest that the joint effects of climate and the region's topography also played important causal roles in its demise.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2022

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Joint first authors: T. Wang and D. Li.



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