China / Regions

Chinese scientists discover clues to "Great Flood"

By Owen Fishwick and Xie Min ( Updated: 2016-08-05 16:48

Legend has it the Chinese civilization began after a great flood 4,000 years ago.

Until now, the flood has been considered a myth; however a team of Chinese scientists have released a paper claiming to have discovered evidence that a great flood actually did take place, leading to the establishment of China's first imperial dynasty.

The team of scientists and researchers, led by Wu Qinglong from Nanjing Normal University, has discovered the remnants of a huge landslide, caused by an earthquake, which blocked the Yellow River in what is now Qinghai province in northwestern China. Over the course of several months the waters rose and formed a vast lake 650 feet deep. When the waters finally overpowered the dam, in what scientists believe to be around 1920 BC, a huge wall of water 30-storys high was unleashed, powerful enough to flood land some 2,000 kilometers downstream.

Chinese scientists discover clues to

The Jishi Gorge on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. [By Wu Qinglong]

The flood on Asia's third largest river would have lasted for some 20 years and would have been the largest of its kind on the globe for the past 10,000 years, fitting in with the Chinese legend of the "Great Flood".

"No scientific evidence has been discovered before for the legendary flood," Wu said during a teleconference on Aug 4.

Wu’s team first discovered sediment from the ancient dam in 2007 in Jishi Gorge on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. They were able to match the samples with a site located miles downstream, where they carbon dated a group of 14 skeletons crushed by the earthquake that struck the area a year earlier.

The great flood brought about another Chinese legend, Yu the Great, who is said to have redirected the floodwaters and returned the Yellow River to its course. According to folk tales, after Yu had engineered and dredged the waters back to their original path, he claimed to have the divine mandate to establish the Xia Dynasty, the first in Chinese history.

David Montgomery, a professor of Earth and space sciences at the University of Washington, said, "A telling aspect of the story — that it took Yu and his followers decades to control the floodwaters — makes sense in light of geological evidence that Wu and his team present.

"It would have taken considerable time for a large river to adjust to such a change and the associated sustained flooding would fall in the right time and place to account for Yu's story — including the long time it took to control the floodwaters,” Montgomery said.

Some historians doubt the existence of the Xia Dynasty, and suspect the great flood myth was passed down through oral history to bolster the imperial dynasty.

David Cohen of National Taiwan University and one of the paper's authors, said, "This provides us with a tantalizing hint that the Xia dynasty might really have existed."

Leader of the report, Wu, received his bachelor's degree in Earth science at Nanjing University in 1997. He has a master's degree in geology and a PHD in environmental science from Peking University (PKU). From 2009-2012, he was a researcher of environmental evolution, geological geomorphology, and geo-archaeology at PKU.


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