Geologic Evidence May Support Chinese Flood Legend

Geologic Evidence May Support Chinese Flood Legend:

Nearly 4,000 years ago, a landslide sent boulders and sediment tumbling into a valley of the Yellow River. The carnage created a massive earthen dam some 660 feet (200 meters) tall, cutting off the river for months.

When that dam finally burst and the river broke free, a massive flood raged across the countryside—and potentially altered the course of Chinese history.

That’s the story told by sediments and archaeological remains described Thursday in a provocative new study published in Science. If correct, the geologic evidence provides a kernel of truth to one of the country’s most important legends: a great flood that paved the way for the Xia, China’s semi-mythical first dynasty.

“Its importance is just like the story of Noah’s flood in the Western world,” says study leader Qinglong Wu of China’s Peking University.

According to the legend, ancient China held a vast watery landscape that took decades to make livable, largely through the efforts of a hero named Yu. For his work, he was rewarded with political power, ultimately founding the Xia dynasty.

There’s considerable debate, however, over whether the Xia actually existed. The main evidence comes from stories written down centuries after their rule, and no archaeologically recovered writings have been concretely tied to the Xia.

If the newly discovered flood is the great flood of legend, it offers tantalizing evidence for the tale. For starters, the flood dates to 1920 B.C., a period that coincides with a critical time in Chinese history: the beginning of the Bronze Age and the start of the Erlitou culture, which some archaeologists associate with the Xia.

“If the great flood really happened, then perhaps it is also likely that the Xia dynasty really existed too. The two are directly tied to each other,” says study co-author David Cohen of National Taiwan University.

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