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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.
We analyzed variations in the Sr/Ca, Ba/Ca, REE/Ca (REE: rare earth element), Zn/Ca, and Pb/Ca ratios preserved in an annually layered stalagmite, XL21, from central China. The stalagmite record spans the 95 year period AD 1914–2008. The Sr/Ca and Ba/Ca ratios have a significant positive correlation with the stalagmite's growth rate, suggesting that they were primarily controlled by growth-rate variations. Variations in REE/Ca ratios are consistent with local temperature changes, suggesting temperature influenced REE concentrations in the stalagmite over decadal to annual timescales. Higher temperature in this humid area can increase vegetation cover, microbial activity, and organic decomposition in the soil, resulting in enhanced pCO2, organic matter concentration and reduced pH, and consequently increased REE mobilization from the overlying soil layer and host rock. Higher temperatures may also increase the natural Zn mobilization from the overlying soil mediated by organic matter and consequently may have led to increased Zn retention in XL21. An increasing trend is seen in the Pb/Ca ratios from XL21 since 1985, which is consistent with increased lead production in this area, and indicates an increase in mine-derived lead pollution in the local environment over the past 30 years.
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