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Since 2018, the radiocarbon laboratory of Lanzhou University has been equipped with a compact accelerator mass spectrometer—a 200-KV mini carbon dating system (MICADAS), together with an auto graphitization equipment (AGE III). The laboratory has for a long time prepared graphite targets for 14C dating of plant fossils, charcoal, bones, and bulk organic matter. Herein, we give an overview of the operating status and performance of the dating facility. The long-term measurements of the standard and blank samples indicated that the results for MICADAS in Lanzhou University were accurate and stable and of high sensitivity. Fifteen sets of organic materials collected from archaeological sites in northwest China were selected for an inter-comparison study involving the participation of four specialist laboratories. The 14C dating results for the homogenized archaeological samples from several of the laboratories showed a high degree of consensus. The long-term performance and inter-comparison data for MICADAS confirmed that the radiocarbon laboratory of Lanzhou University could provide stable and accurate 14C dating results. In this context, the 14C dating results for a number of key archaeological/environmental samples were validated.
Archaeological research has documented the migration of Neolithic farmers onto the Tibetan Plateau by 4000 BC. How these incoming groups interacted, if at all, with local indigenous foragers, however, remains unclear. New archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological data from the Zongri site in the north-eastern Tibetan Plateau suggest that local foragers continued to hunt but supplemented their diet with agricultural products in the form of millet. The authors propose that, rather than being grown locally, this millet was acquired via exchange with farmers. This article highlights how indigenous foragers engaged in complex patterns of material and cultural exchange through encounters with newly arrived farmers.
Climatic change that affects biological productivity is often argued to be a primary force influencing human activities during the glacial period. To test this assumption, we combine in-site pollen, paleoclimatic, and archaeological data from the Dadiwan site and nearby areas on the western Loess Plateau (WLP) that date to Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 3. Our comparison of multiple datasets suggests that regional human activities increased when the vegetation around the Dadiwan area shifted from forest steppe in the early MIS 3 (59–46.7 ka) to steppe in the middle to late MIS 3 (46.7–29.5 ka). Our results indicate that regional human activities increased again during the late MIS 3 when the amount of precipitation was higher, as indicated by the lower Artemisia proportion. We suggest that increased precipitation on the WLP enhanced the above-ground biomass production and may be responsible for an increase in human activity and population in this region.
Recent multidisciplinary research indicates that prehistoric agriculture innovation promoted permanent human settlements of areas up to 3400 m above sea level (asl) in the northern Tibetan Plateau, but when and how ancient humans extensively occupied areas above that altitude remains uncertain. In this paper, we investigated 12 archaeological sites situated above 3600 m asl in the Yushu autonomous prefecture, east-central Tibetan Plateau, to explore this issue. We determined the ages of five sites using the radiocarbon (14C) dating method and identified animal bones sampled from three sites. The dating results show that humans occasionally occupied the Yushu area around 900 BC, and permanently inhabited the area between AD 540 and 1620. Preliminary faunal identifications indicate human-raised livestock including yak, sheep, and horse during the latter period. Stone-constructed tombs and rock painting were found at some investigated sites, suggesting humans perhaps engaged in a pastoral lifestyle during the very late Holocene in the high altitude Yushu area, where nomadic livestock production remains the current primary subsistence strategy focus.
The grain-size distribution (GSD) of sediments provides information on sediment provenance, transport processes, and the sedimentary environment. Although a wide range of statistical parameters have been applied to summarize GSDs, most are directed at only parts of the distribution, which limits the amount of environmental information that can be retrieved. Endmember modeling provides a flexible method for unmixing GSDs; however, the calculation of the exact number of endmembers and geologically meaningful endmember spectra remain unresolved using existing modeling methods. Here we present the methodology hierarchical clustering endmember modeling analysis (CEMMA) for unmixing the GSDs of sediments. Within the CEMMA framework, the number of endmembers can be inferred from agglomeration coefficients, and the grain-size spectra of endmembers are defined on the basis of the average distance between the samples in the clusters. After objectively defining grain-size endmembers, we use a least squares algorithm to calculate the fractions of each GSD endmember that contributes to individual samples. To test the CEMMA method, we use a grain-size data set from a sediment core from Wulungu Lake in the Junggar Basin in China, and find that application of the CEMMA methodology yields geologically and mathematically meaningful results. We conclude that CEMMA is a rapid and flexible approach for analyzing the GSDs of sediments.
Aeolian deposits at four sites in the Gonghe Basin were used to reconstruct the history of aeolian activity over the late Quaternary. These deposits include well-sorted aeolian sand, paleosols and/or loess. Aeolian sand represents dune-field expansion and/or dune buildup, whereas paleosols indicate stabilization of dunes, accompanying ameliorated vegetation cover. On the basis of 25 dates by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), it appears that aeolian activities occurred episodically at 33.5, 20.3, 13.9, 11.8–11.0, 9.4, 7.8, and 5.7 (5.5) ka, which is largely consistent with the recent findings from the adjacent semi-arid areas. Aeolian sand mobility occurring during the early to mid Holocene conflicts with a climatic optimum inferred from lacustrine records in the northeastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. This inconsistency may be resolved by interpreting aeolian activity as a response to decreased effective moisture due to enhanced evaporation, induced by higher summer insolation at that time, together with local terrain and its effects on moisture. Our results suggest that aeolian sand and paleosol cannot be simply ascribed to regional dry and wet climates, respectively, and they most likely reflect changes in effective moisture.
Pollen evidence from sediment cores at Hurleg and Toson lakes in the Qaidam Basin was obtained to examine vegetation and climatic change in the northeastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. The chronologies were controlled by 210Pb and 137Cs analysis and AMS 14C dating. Pollen assemblages from both lakes are dominated by Chenopodiaceae (∼ 40%), Artemisia (∼ 30–35%) and Poaceae (∼ 20–25%), with continued occurrence but low abundance of Nitraria, Ephedra, and Cyperaceae. Artemisia/Chenopodiaceae (A/C) pollen ratios from two lakes show coherent large oscillations at centennial timescale during the last 1000 yr. A/C ratios were high around AD 1170, 1270, 1450, 1700 and 1920, suggesting that the vegetation was more “steppe-like” under a relatively moist climate than that during the intervening periods. Wet-dry climate shifts at the two lakes (2800 m asl) are in opposite phases to precipitation changes derived from tree-ring records in the surrounding mountains (> 3700 m asl) and to pollen and snow accumulation records from Dunde ice core (5300 m asl), showing that a dry climate in the basin corresponds with a wet interval in the mountains, especially around AD 1600. This contrasting pattern implies that topography might have played an important role in mediating moisture changes at regional scale in this topographically complex region.
The evolution of arid environments in northern China was a major environmental change during the Quaternary. Here we present the dating and environmental proxy results from a 35 m long core (A-WL10ZK-1) collected from the Ulan Buh Desert (UBD), along with supplemental data from four other cores. The UBD is one of the main desert dune fields in China and our results indicate the UBD has undergone complex evolution during the late Quaternary. Most of the present UBD was covered by a Jilantai-Hetao Mega-paleolake lasting until ~ 90 ka ago. A sandy desert environment prevailed throughout the UBD during the last glacial period and early Holocene. A wetland environment characterized by the formation of numerous interdunal ponds in the northern UBD occurred at ~ 8–7 ka, although a dune field persisted in the southern UBD. The modern UBD landscape formed after these wetlands dried up. During the last 2000 years, eolian sand from the Badain Jaran Desert has invaded the northern UBD, while farming and overgrazing resulted in the formation of the eastern UBD. We suggest that the formation of UBD landforms is related to the disintegration of the megalake Jilantai-Hetao and to summer monsoon changes during the last glaciation and Holocene.
Molecular stratigraphic analyses using gas chromatograph-mass spectrometry have been performed in the upper section (S0, L1, S1) of the Yuanbo loess–paleosol sequences in northwest China, with a record extending from the last interglaciation through the present interglaciation. The CPI (Carbon Preference Index) values of both n-alkanols and n-alkan-2-ones display variations between loess deposits and paleosols, showing a correlation with the magnetic susceptibility record, an indicator of the East Asian summer monsoon. The observed variations in the indexes in relation to changes in lithology/paleoclimate are proposed to result from microbial degradation of higher plant lipids in the paleosols. The CPI values of n-alkanes, n-alkanols, and n-alkan-2-ones are negatively correlated with δ13C of bulk organic matter. The correlations suggest that the observed glacial–interglacial variations of δ13C data in the loess stratigraphy reflect the relative importance of the contribution of paleovegetation compared with microorganisms (including both the degradation and the addition of organic matter) and allochthonous loess/soil parent materials. It is thus necessary to evaluate the contributions of the latter two before the paleovegetation can be reconstructed based on the δ13C analysis of bulk organic matter in some loess–paleosol sequences of the Chinese Loess Plateau.
Arid Central Asia (ACA) lies on a major climatic boundary between the mid-latitude westerlies and the northwestern limit of the Asian summer monsoon, yet only a few high-quality reconstructions exist for its climate history. Here we calibrate a new organic geochemical proxy for lake temperature, and present a 45-yr-resolution temperature record from Hurleg Lake at the eastern margin of the ACA in the northern Tibetan Plateau. Combination with other proxy data from the same samples reveals a distinct warm–dry climate association throughout the record, which contrasts with the warm–wet association found in the Asian monsoon region. This indicates that the climatic boundary between the westerly and the monsoon regimes has remained roughly in the same place throughout the Holocene, at least near our study site. Six millennial-scale cold events are found within the past 9000 yr, which approximately coincide with previously documented events of northern high-latitude cooling and tropical drought. This suggests a connection between the North Atlantic and tropical monsoon climate systems, via the westerly circulation. Finally, we also observe an increase in regional climate variability after the mid-Holocene, which we relate to changes in vegetation (forest) cover in the monsoon region through a land-surface albedo feedback.
Increased flooding caused by global warming threatens the safety of coastal and river basin dwellers, but the relationship of flooding frequency, human settlement and climate change at long time scales remains unclear. Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age cultural deposits interbedded with flood sediments were found at the Shalongka site near the north bank of the upper Yellow River, northeastern Tibetan Plateau. We reconstruct the history of overbank flooding and human occupation at the Shalongka site by application of optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon dating, grain size, magnetic susceptibility and color reflectance analysis of overbank sediment and paleosols. The reliability of OSL dating has been confirmed by internal checks and comparing with independent 14C ages; alluvial OSL ages have shown a systematic overestimation due to poor bleaching. Our results indicate that the Yellow River episodically overflowed and reached the Shalongka site from at least ~ 16 ka and lasting until ~ 3 ka. Soil development and reduced flooding occurred at ~ 15, ~ 8.3–5.4, and after ~ 3 ka, and prehistoric populations spread to the Shalongka site area at ~ 8.3, ~ 5.4, and ~ 3 ka. We suggest that climate change influenced the overbank flooding frequency and then affected prehistoric human occupation of the Shalongka site.
A 38-m well section near Lanzhou at the semiarid western margin of the Loess Plateau, China, contained a continuous, high-resolution loess-paleosol sequence spanning the last 130,000 yr. Depth functions of micromorphological features, magnetic susceptibility, calcium carbonate, organic carbon, and median grain size provide the basis for pedosedimentary and associated paleoenvironmental reconstructions of three paleosol complexes (S1, Sm, and S0). Each pedosedimentary stage reflects the interaction of changing intensities of controlling monsoonal forces. Three periods of reduced dust inputs and enhanced pedogenic activity, notably bioturbation and weak leaching, can be identified from within the S1 pedocomplex. These "soil-forming intervals" were separated by phases of varying land surface instability characterized by arid dust deposition, semiarid accretionary pedogenesis, water reworking, and crust formation, or even freeze-thaw modification. The Sm pedocomplex represents an interval of relatively rapid dust accumulation with only minimal syndepositional modification and minor pedogenic alteration at ephemeral land surfaces. The S0 pedocomplex is clearly more pedogenically developed, although erosion, reworking, and mixing by water have partly homogenized the property depth functions.
We analyzed climate proxies from loessic-soil sections of the southern Chinese Loess Plateau. The early Holocene paleosol, S0, is 3.2 m thick and contains six sub-soil units. Co-eval soils from the central Loess Plateau are thinner (~ 1 m). Consequently higher-resolution stratigraphic analyses can be made on our new sections and provide more insight into Holocene temporal variation of the East Asian monsoon. Both summer and winter monsoon evolution signals are recorded in the same sections, enabling the study of phase relationships between the signals. Our analyses consist of (i) measurements of magnetic properties sensitive to the production of fine-grained magnetic minerals which reflect precipitation intensity and summer monsoon strength; and (ii) grain-size analyses which reflect winter monsoon strength. Our results indicate that the Holocene precipitation maximum occurred in the mid-Holocene, ~ 7.8–3.5 cal ka BP, with an arid interval at 6.3–5.3 cal ka BP. The winter monsoon intensity declined to a minimum during 5.0–3.4 cal ka BP. These results suggest that the East Asian summer and winter monsoons were out of phase during the Holocene, possibly due to their different sensitivities to ice and snow coverage at high latitudes and to sea-surface temperature at low latitudes.
Some scholars have argued that the formation and outburst of an ancient dammed lake in the Jishi Gorge at ca. 3700 cal yr BP resulted in the destruction of Lajia, the site of a famous prehistoric disaster in the Guanting Basin, upper Yellow River valley, China. However, the cause of the dammed lake and the exact age of the dam breaching are still debated. We investigated ancient landslides and evidence for the dammed lake in the Jishi Gorge, including dating of soil from the shear zone of an ancient landslide, sediments of the ancient dammed lake, and loess above lacustrine sediments using radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating methods. Six radiocarbon dates and two OSL dates suggested that the ancient landslides and dammed lake events in the Jishi Gorge probably occurred around 8100 cal yr BP, and the ancient dammed lake was breached between 6780 cal yr BP and 5750 cal yr BP. Hence, the outburst of the ancient dammed lake in the Jishi Gorge was unrelated to the ruin of the Lajia site, but likely resulted in flood disasters in the Guanting Basin around 6500 cal yr BP.
Understanding precipitation variation, drought and flood history, and their associated forcing mechanisms are important to human society. In this study, five moisture-sensitive tree-ring width chronologies are used to represent variations in precipitation over the past millennium on the Northeastern Tibetan Plateau (NETP). We find a strong coherency between chronologies in the NETP, indicating a common response to regional climate during the last millennium. The first principal component of the five chronologies (PC1) correlates significantly with regional precipitation and can thus be used as an indicator of regional precipitation variations. Dry spells, even more severe than the 1920s drought, occurred during AD 1139–1152, 1294–1309, 1446–1503 and 1708–1726. Previous studies in this area using other proxies also identified these droughts. Multi-Taper spectral analysis demonstrates significant periodicities at 205 yr and 73 yr, plus a range of ~ 2 yr cycles, suggesting possible linkage with solar variation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). PC1 also shows coherent patterns with solar irradiance variation: the precipitation tends to reach low values during the well-known solar minimum.
We studied the mid-Holocene climate change in eastern Qinghai Province, China and its impact on the evolution of Majiayao (3980–2050 BC) and Qijia (2183–1635 BC) cultures, near the important Neolithic site of Changning. The investigation focused on analyses of grain size, magnetic susceptibility, ratios of elemental contents, and pollen assemblage from a loess-paleosol sequence. The results indicate that the climate was wet during 5830–4900 cal yr BP, which promoted the development of early-mid Majiayao culture in eastern Qinghai Province. However, 4900–4700 cal yr BP were drought years in the region, responsible for the decline and eastward movement of prehistoric culture during the period of transition from early-mid to late Majiayao culture. The climate turned wet again during 4700–3940 cal yr BP, which accelerated the spread of Qijia culture to the middle reaches of the Huangshui River, including the Changning site.
The chronology of the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures in Gansu and Qinghai provinces, northwest China, is mainly based on conventional radiocarbon dates from unidentified charcoal, which may be inaccurate in view of the possible “old wood” problem of 14C dating. To discuss the reliability of the chronology of those prehistoric cultures, accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dates of short-lived charred seeds were compared to conventional 14C dates of unidentified charcoal from the same flotation samples in 15 Late Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in the area. The results show that 14C dates of unidentified charcoal are obviously older than those of charred seeds in 5 of the 15 flotation samples. This work suggests that the old-wood problem of 14C dating might be related to human subsistence strategies and local vegetation variation during different prehistoric cultural periods in Gansu and Qinghai provinces, which should be discussed before establishing the chronology of Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures in the area.
Intensive research on China's Western Loess Plateau has located 63 Palaeolithic deposits, which together allow the authors to present a general model of hominin occupation from 80 000 to 18 000 years ago. Tools, subsistence and settlement correlate nicely with the climate: the warm wet MIS3 seeing expansion and more organised acquisition of quartz, and the Late Glacial Maximum that followed, a reduction in human presence but possibly an increase in ingenuity.