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Flood dynamics of the lower Yellow River over the last 3000 years: Characteristics and implications for geoarchaeology

Chen, Yunzhen
Quaternary international 2019 v.521 pp. 147-157
coevolution, computer simulation, humans, landscapes, loess, rivers, watersheds, Yellow River
The succession of prehistoric cultures and the formation and development of Chinese civilization in the Central Plains are interlocked with the geomorphic evolution of the Yellow River. Historically, the dynamics of this human-river relationship were manifested in the flood dynamics of the Yellow River. Based on the fluvial geomorphologic and channel morphodynamic principles and complex system theories, the Yellow River flood dynamics over the last 3000 years are analyzed, and three characteristics of the Yellow River are identified: high susceptibility to perturbations, which is mainly attributed to the dominant loess lithology; coevolution of the river and human systems driven by human-induced positive feedbacks; and an uncommon ability to avoid collapse. Future research on the human-river relationship during prehistoric times can be explored at three scales: continental landscape evolution and the succession of cultures, catchment landscape evolution and the rise and fall of a culture, and site formation processes from the geomorphic perspective. A synthesis of archeological findings, theories on alluvial channel evolution, the three characteristics of the Yellow River, and the pattern and drivers of the flood dynamics in historical times led to two speculations. One speculation is about the origin of two regional discontinuities in the archeological record from 5500–5100 yr BP and from 3900–3600 yr BP in the lower Yellow River basin; the other is about the rise and fall of the Erlitou Culture and the origin of a state. Quantitative studies adopting a multidisciplinary approach, such as 4D-GIS data mining and computer modeling, are helpful in answering intricate questions in the field.