Researchers at National Taiwan University have presented evidence of a dynastic China that is older than previously thought, gaining the attention of a respected international publication.
The historical existence of China’s Xia Dynasty (夏) has long been the subject of debate among historians.
The new research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, provides geographical information as evidence that the myth of “Yu the Great controlled the waterways” (大禹治水) is a reference to a massive flood that hit areas around China’s Yellow River at the time Xia is thought to have been established.
A research team led by David Cohen, an assistant professor at the university’s Department of Anthropology, used geographical survey data from China’s Qinghai Province to determine the flow of the Yellow River in 1920 BC.
The team said the data allowed it to assert that the largest flood to ever take place worldwide occurred in China in that period.
The data point to a series of major natural phenomena, starting with a large earthquake that caused landslides, blocking the river and creating a massive lake.
By extrapolating the paths of sediment deposits, the researchers said they determined that the area downstream from the temporary lake experienced a drought at about that time — more evidence of the river’s obstruction.
The researchers said that approximately one year after the earthquake, about 1920 BC, the dam formed by landslides suddenly broke, causing a huge amount of water to rush forward.
The accumulation of water over six to nine months created a lake with a depth of approximately 185m to 210m — roughly the equivalent of a 40-story building. The burst dam would have destroyed any dikes and affected an area up to 2km downstream from the lake.
The team conducted radiocarbon dating on the bones of three infants buried alive at a site along the river known as “Chinese Pompeii,” which confirmed their hypothesis, they said.
The team said it believes that the scope of the flood’s impact is consistent with events recorded in the Records of the Grand Historian (史記) and the Book of Documents (書經), classic texts from early dynastic China, and that the period of the flood closely coincides with the year the Xia Dynasty is believed to have been established.
These points serve as strong evidence in support of the historical existence of the Xia Dynasty, they said.
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