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The impact of ancient civilization on the northeastern Chinese landscape: palaeoecological evidence from the Western Liaohe River Basin, Inner Mongolia

By Y. Y. Li, K. J. Willis, L. P. Zhou and H. T. Cui


The Western Liaohe River Basin in northeastern China is one of the cradles of ancient Chinese civilization. Archaeological records from this region indicate that human occupation began about 8000 years ago and that agriculture and pastoralism were important activities from an early stage. Very little is known, however, about the effects that these activities had upon the landscape. This paper presents the results of a palaeoecological study from a 3.6 m sedimentary sequence in a relict oxbow lake in the Western Liaohe River Basin of southeast Inner Mongolia. The 5400-yr sequence indicates that human activities had a noticeable impact on an apparently open landscape. Buckwheat cultivation began as early as 5400 cal. yr BP with intensification of agricultural activities from approximately 4700 cal. yr BP. Nitrophilous plants such as <em>Solanum</em> and <em>Cerastium</em>, and also <em>Artemisia</em> were growing in the region at certain times, linked with fluctuations in the δ<sup>15</sup>N record and probably indicative of increased pastoralism and unintentional/intentional manuring. Burning was probably used for clearance of the steppe vegetation for agriculture with a close relationship apparent between increased influx of microfossil charcoal and the presence of buckwheat. Superimposed upon this record of human impact is also clear indication of three significant intervals of climate change between 2900 and 2600, 1200 and 600 and 600 and 30 cal. yr BP. The latter two are discussed in relation to the 'Mediaeval Warm Period' and 'Little Ice Age' apparent in sedimentary sequences across the Northern Hemisphere. Discussions are therefore made in terms of the impact that both climate change and ancient Chinese civilizations had upon shaping the present day landscape and vegetation.The full-text of this article is not currently available in ORA, but you may be able to access the article via the publisher copy link on this record page. The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in The Holocene, 16(8), December 2006 by SAGE Publications Ltd. All rights reserved. © 2006 SAGE Publications. N.B. Prof Willis is now based at the Faculty of Zoology, University of Oxford

Topics: Environment, Holocene, human impact, environmental archaeology, pollen analysis, microfossil charcoal, nitrogen isotopes, civilization, Inner Mongolia, buckwheat cultivation
Year: 2006
DOI identifier: 10.1177/0959683606069403
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