First evidence of legendary China flood may rewrite history

August 4, 2016 by Kerry Sheridan
Fourteen skeletons of victims killed by earthquake in Cave dwelling F4 at Lajia site excavated in 2000. Credit: Cai Linhai

Geologists have found the first evidence for China's Great Flood, a 4,000-year-old disaster on the Yellow River that led to birth of the Xia dynasty and modern Chinese civilization, researchers said Thursday.

The findings in the journal Science may help rewrite history because they not only show that a massive did occur, but that it was in 1920 BC, several centuries later than traditionally thought.

This would mean the Xia dynasty, led by Emperor Yu, may also have started later than Chinese historians have thought.

Yu gained fame as the man who was able to gain control over the flood by orchestrating the dredging work needed to guide the waters back into their channels.

Restoring order after chaos earned "him the divine mandate to establish the Xia dynasty, the first in Chinese history," said the study, led by Wu Qinglong, professor in the department of geography at Nanjing Normal University.

Stories about Emperor Yu laid the ideological foundation for the Confucian rulership system, but in recent generations, some scholars have questioned whether it ever happened at all. Perhaps, they say, it was all a myth designed to justify imperial rule.

So geologists investigated along the Yellow River in Qinghai Province, examining the remains of a landslide dam and sediments from a dammed lake and outburst flood.

A view of the skeletons in cave F10 from another direction at Lajia site. Credit: Cai Linhai
Catastrophic flood

What they found suggests a that is one of the largest known floods on Earth in the last 10,000 years, said co-author Darryl Granger, professor in the department of Earth atmospheric planetary sciences at Purdue University.

The floodwaters surged to 38 meters (yards) above the modern river level, making the disaster "roughly equivalent to the largest Amazon flood ever measured," he told reporters on a conference call to discuss the findings.

The flood would have been "more than 500 times larger than a flood on the Yellow River from a rainfall event," he added.

"This cataclysmic flood would have been a truly devastating event for anyone living on the Yellow River downstream."

A video of Jishi Gorge Yellow River Credit: Wu Qinglong

Since such floods toss debris and sediment all over, mixing old soil with new, the scientific team used human remains to pin down the timing of the disaster.

Three children's skeletons were found in the rubble of an earthquake, which is believed to have triggered a landslide, researchers said.

That landslide created a dam. Water built up around the dam and eventually burst through, unleashing the flood.

Radiocarbon dating on the children's bones showed that they died in 1920 BC, coinciding with a major cultural transition in China.

"This is the first time a flood of this scale—large enough to account for it—has been found," said David Cohen, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at National Taiwan University.

Processes of the outburst flood. Credit: Wu Qinglong
"The outburst flood... provides us with a tantalizing hint that the Xia dynasty might really have existed," he told reporters.

"If the Great Flood really happened, perhaps it is also likely that the Xia dynasty really existed, too. The two are directly tied to each other."

Now that researchers have evidence to back up the tales in ancient texts, the Xia dynasty could be considered as starting around 1900 BC, instead of 2200 BC as previously thought, they argue.

"Great floods occupy a central place in some of the world's oldest stories," wrote David Thompson of the University of Washington, Seattle in an accompanying commentary in Science.

"And Emperor Yu's flood now stands as another such story potentially rooted in geological events."

This image highlights the variable timelines for the start of the Xia dynasty according to traditional Chinese culture, the Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project and the flood that was newly identified and dated by Wu et al. Credit: Carla Schaffer/AAAS

Explore further: Adaptation to climate risks: Political affiliation matters

More information: "Outburst flood at 1920 BCE supports historicity of China's Great Flood and the Xia dynasty," Science, science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aaf0842

Related Stories

Adaptation to climate risks: Political affiliation matters

August 4, 2016

A new study reveals that those who affiliate with the Democratic Party have different views than those who vote Republican on the following issues: the likelihood of floods occurring, adopting protection measures, and expectations ...

Flood damages in Germany could multiply under climate change

July 18, 2016

Flood-related losses can be expected to increase considerably in Germany as a result of climate change, a new study shows. Extreme events like the severe floods along the river Elbe have already illustrated the potentially ...

Flood hazards: Vermont and Colorado as case studies

October 13, 2015

Catastrophic floods in 2011 in Vermont and 2013 in Colorado devastated many communities. While flood waters were the highest in recorded history, much of the damage done by these floods was not related to inundation by flood ...

Image: Landslide and Barrier Lake near Oso, Washington

March 27, 2014

On March 22, 2014, a rainfall-triggered landslide near Oso, Washington, sent muddy debris spilling across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. The debris swamped numerous homes, resulting in the deaths of at least 24 ...

U.K. flood polices need a comprehensive overhaul

March 16, 2016

Flood polices need a comprehensive overhaul instead of small-scale tinkering, according to academics from The University of Manchester and the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

Why do flood defences fail?

December 9, 2015

More than 40,000 people were forced to leave their homes after Storm Desmond caused devastating floods and wreaked havoc in north-west England. Initial indications were that the storm may have caused the heaviest local daily ...

Recommended for you

Oceans of garbage prompt war on plastics

December 15, 2018

Faced with images of turtles smothered by plastic bags, beaches carpeted with garbage and islands of trash floating in the oceans, environmentalists say the world is waking up to the need to tackle plastic pollution at the ...

A damming trend

December 14, 2018

Hundreds of dams are being proposed for Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia. The negative social and environmental consequences—affecting everything from food security to the environment—greatly outweigh the positive ...

Data from Kilauea suggests the eruption was unprecedented

December 14, 2018

A very large team of researchers from multiple institutions in the U.S. has concluded that the Kilauea volcanic eruption that occurred over this past summer represented an unprecedented volcanic event. In their paper published ...

The long dry: global water supplies are shrinking

December 13, 2018

A global study has found a paradox: our water supplies are shrinking at the same time as climate change is generating more intense rain. And the culprit is the drying of soils, say researchers, pointing to a world where drought-like ...

Death near the shoreline, not life on land

December 13, 2018

Our understanding of when the very first animals started living on land is helped by identifying trace fossils—the tracks and trails left by ancient animals—in sedimentary rocks that were deposited on the continents.

11 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Jayded
3 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2016
The creationists are going to have a field day with this.
EnricM
4 / 5 (8) Aug 05, 2016
The creationists are going to have a field day with this.

Why? This flood confirms the Confucianist believes. Do the creationists believe in the Five Emperors by chance?
Azrael
2.7 / 5 (12) Aug 05, 2016
The creationists are going to have a field day with this.

Why? This flood confirms the Confucianist believes. Do the creationists believe in the Five Emperors by chance?


Nope. Just another ignorant, hateful person to add to the ignore list.

Christian-bashing, and faith-bashing in general is becoming the new "cool" among those with psuedo-superiority complexes.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3.9 / 5 (9) Aug 05, 2016
There is no archaeological evidence for a Xia imperium, so we can dismiss the part outside the flood myth. The Yu myth is more likely based in the temporal river rerouting that the flood itself made.

More interesting is that the dating is consistent with the "Bamboo Annals", which is the first text fragment of what would be a millennium old oral myth, if so. [ https://en.wikipe..._dynasty ] But that could be a coincidence, seeing the many overlapping source dates one can find.

@Azrael: Of course science-bashing sects are dismissed on science sites, whether or not they are mohammedanist, judaist, christianist, or hinduist creationists. So is other superstitions in general, even if they are not explicit science-bashing, since it is non-factual crap in relation, that has no business here. No 'hate' seen.

What is "psuedo-superiority complexes"!? To insist on spelling it "pseudo"? Or another erroneous analogy to the established observation of pseudoscience existence?
Chris_Reeve
Aug 05, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
barakn
4.6 / 5 (10) Aug 05, 2016
Nope. Just another ignorant, hateful person to add to the ignore list.

Christian-bashing, and faith-bashing in general is becoming the new "cool" among those with psuedo-superiority complexes.
This isn't Christian bashing, this is young-Earth-creationist bashing. Many Christians believe that the creation story is allegorical rather than literal
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (8) Aug 05, 2016
But, we do not see such floods today, so what is the basis of the assumption?
The assumption is that you dont watch the news.
https://www.youtu...OXVlPUu4
https://www.youtu...0UWMXpgo
https://en.wikipe...atsunami
Many Christians believe that the creation story is allegorical rather than literal
-But they would be wrong. Nowhere in the bible or the quran does it say that these stories are metaphors. Instead it insists that they all really happened, and it is god who is telling us this.

And so we are left with the conclusion that either god didnt know the past, that he knew but chose to ignore it, or that he actually obliterated all evidence of the people and events described in the books and replaced it with totally convincing contrary evidence.

IOW either god is an incompetent, a liar, or a criminal. Evidence tampering is a felony.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Aug 05, 2016
We are left wondering why the most morally impeccable creature in the universe would have to deceive us in order to find out how much we TRUST him.

It is after all much easier to believe that fellow humans who were trying to teach us to lay down, roll over, and play dead, would want us to disregard the evidence of our senses and our reason by conditioning us to accept such nonsense.
Maggnus
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 06, 2016
There exists an inherent contradiction to analyzing such an unprecedented event through the lens of uniformity. Uniformity assumes that we can understand the past by simply observing the present.
You are constructing a strawman.
But, we do not see such floods today, so what is the basis of the assumption?
You are ignoring the news. You wish to construct a narrative whereby the imaginings of our ancestors in attempting to explain what to them was unknowable is somehow truthful representations of the imaginative creations of a writer. You ignore that evidence which does not conform to the narrative you are attempting to construct.
The fact of the matter is that the assumption here completely dictates the conclusions. Without that assumption, we are able to more freely follow wherever it is that the data takes us..
It is you who assumes, and then attempts to fit the evidence to support your assumption. It is you and your cult that dictates conclusions.
Chris_Reeve
Aug 07, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Maggnus
3 / 5 (4) Aug 07, 2016
That's a very formulaic response.
How so? You are building a strawman to attack (uniformity), ignoring the real findings. Your desire, as I stated, is not to discuss those findings, but rather to argue against your strawman.
The issue would seem to be on a different level than debate tactics.
Religiosity?
It's about the assumptions which a person accepts.
No, its about the evidence which people have found.
To point to a common cultural theme of a large flood which science can today demonstrate was in fact large - to point to that and simply assume that it must have been from processes internal to the Earth, is a very pseudo-intellectual approach.
Oh BS. To try and turn a clearly Earthly process into a constructed confirmation of an imaginary event is hypocrisy.
You've simply asserted your assumption.
I have not, I have simply accepted the evidence at face value without need to resort to magical unseen processes.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.