Study: Collapse of Ancient Liangzhu Culture Caused by Climate Change

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Dripstones in the Shennong Cave in China

Referred to as “China’s Venice of the Stone Age”, the Liangzhu excavation site in eastern China is considered one of the most significant testimonies of early Chinese advanced civilisation. More than 5000 years ago, the city already had an elaborate water management system. Until now, it has been controversial what led to the sudden collapse. Massive flooding triggered by anomalously intense monsoon rains caused the collapse, as an international team with Innsbruck geologist and climate researcher Christoph Spötl has now shown in the journal Science Advances.

In the Yangtze Delta, about 160 kilometres southwest of Shanghai, the archeological ruins of Liangzhu City are located. There, a highly advanced culture blossomed about 5300 years ago, which is considered to be one of the earliest proofs of monumental water culture. The oldest evidence of large hydraulic engineering structures in China originates from this late Neolithic cultural site. The walled city had a complex system of navigable canals, dams and water reservoirs. This system made it possible to cultivate very large agricultural areas throughout the year. In the history of human civilisation, this is one of the first examples of highly developed communities based on a water infrastructure. Metals, however, were still unknown in this culture. Thousands of elaborately crafted jade burial objects were found during excavations. Long undiscovered and underestimated in its historical significance, the archaeological site is now considered a well-preserved record of Chinese civilisation dating back more than 5000 years. Liangzhu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019. However, the advanced civilisation of this city, which was inhabited for almost 1000 years, came to an abrupt end. Until today, it remains controversial what caused it. “A thin layer of clay was found on the preserved ruins, which points to a possible connection between the demise of the advanced civilisation and floods of the Yangtze River or floods from the East China Sea. No evidence could be found for human causes such as warlike conflicts,” explains Christoph Spötl, head of the Quaternary Research Group at the Department of Geology. “However, no clear conclusions on the cause were possible from the mud layer itself.”

Dripstones store the answer

Caves and their deposits, such as dripstones, are among the most important climate archives that exist. They allow the reconstruction of climatic conditions above the caves up to several 100,000 years into the past. Since it is still not clear what caused the sudden collapse of the Liangzhu culture, the research team searched for suitable archives in order to investigate a possible climatic cause of this collapse. Geologist Haiwei Zhang from Xi’an Jiaotong University in Xi’an, who spent a year at the University of Innsbruck as a visiting researcher in 2017, took samples of stalagmites from the two caves Shennong and Jiulong, which are located southwest of the excavation site. “These caves have been well explored for years. They are located in the same area affected by the Southeast Asian monsoon as the Yangtze delta and their stalagmites provide a precise insight into the time of the collapse of the Liangzhu culture, which, according to archaeological findings, happened about 4300 years ago,” Spötl explains. Data from the stalagmites show that between 4345 and 4324 years ago there was a period of extremely high precipitation. Evidence for this was provided by the isotope records of carbon, which were measured at the University of Innsbruck. The precise dating was done by uranium-thorium analyses at Xi’an Jiaotong University, whose measurement accuracy is ± 30 years. “This is amazingly precise in light of the temporal dimension,” says the geologist. “The massive monsoon rains probably led to such severe flooding of the Yangtze and its branches that even the sophisticated dams and canals could no longer withstand these masses of water, destroying Liangzhu City and forcing people to flee.” The very humid climatic conditions continued intermittently for another 300 years, as the geologists show from the cave data.


Science Advances




Collapse of the Liangzhu and other Neolithic cultures in the lower Yangtze region in response to climate change



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dodgy geezer
November 25, 2021 2:08 pm

They should have used electric cars.. ..

Reply to  dodgy geezer
November 25, 2021 2:18 pm

Of course, and I’m sure that wind farms, EVs, solar energy and one child families etc would’ve fixed their problems.
Disgusting climate deniers who deserved their fate. SARC

Reply to  dodgy geezer
November 25, 2021 3:02 pm

What are trying to make you think is that climate change equals civilization collapse. The lesson they want you to learn is that if temperatures increase even a tenth of a degree must be fought because if we don’t, our civilization will be at risk.

Pamela Matlack-Klein
Reply to  MarkW
November 25, 2021 3:45 pm

They can try but in fact it is the change to colder temps that has caused most of the problems for humanity. Humans do ever so much better when it warm.

Reply to  MarkW
November 25, 2021 4:54 pm

The obsession about climate change is destined to collapse our civilization …

The only climate change with the potential to collapse our civilization is the next inevitable ice age, which unfortunately, no amount of CO2 emissions will prevent from occurring.

Reply to  co2isnotevil
November 26, 2021 7:32 am

CO2 or not, many records of glaciation together show that the warm periods between glaciations range from nonexistent to ~30,000 years.

We are about 10,000 years into the current interglacial. The next glacial period may be starting now, or it may not happen for another 10-20,000 years.

Reply to  Philo
November 26, 2021 8:32 am

I read that some scientists think earth is in an unusually stable period of near circular orbit so the current interglacial is expected to be much longer than typical and may last as much as another 50k years. I also read some study that purports that the expected CO2 peak also might have just enough residual effect to stave off the next glaciation period.

Loren Wilson
Reply to  menace
November 26, 2021 5:17 pm

I want a bumper sticker that says, “Avert the next Ice Age – Burn more coal!”

Reply to  menace
November 27, 2021 6:38 pm

The orbit is far from circular with about 80 W/m^2 difference in the solar constant between perihelion and aphelion. The current maximum nearly coincides with the N hemisphere winter solstice. When this aligns with the N hemisphere summer, the climate will be quite different.

The stability of the current interglacial is due to the phase relationships between tilt variability and the precession of perihelion. During the previous interglacial, the influence of these effects aligned and the result was a short, but intense warm period. This time, the 2 effects are spread out and the resulting interglacial is longer and cooler than others. In fact, it was already the longest interglacial in the ice core record long before the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Varying tilt also has effects on seasonal differences where more tilt means colder polar winters. The signatures of tilt variability and the precession of perihelion is unambiguously present in the ice core data.

The root cause of the ebb and flow of glaciers is the relative difference between winters and summers driven primarily by these two orbital factors.

Rich Davis
Reply to  MarkW
November 25, 2021 5:00 pm

Sorry to say it, but our civilization has already collapsed, hasn’t it?

The same flag flies over our country today as it did when I was born, but the culture would be unrecognizable to a time traveler jumping from the Kennedy inauguration to today.

Adapt or die, I suppose. Sometimes there are no good options.

Reply to  dodgy geezer
November 25, 2021 3:16 pm

The reason they disappeared was electric cars.
First they used to drive standard SUV’s but then then the philosopher Mar Ksi Sam tricked then into the use-xin-hetong.
The emperor fall for the trick and was amased and said faqing is great.

As result of the switch to EV’s and renewables the energy supply collapsed.
The EV’ s could not drive without E.
And the cold winters+ no heating devastated the empire.

Though some crazy conspiracy terrorists claim this culture was one of those that disappeared as result of the great ( biblical) flood that is known in many different cultures all around the world

Tom Halla
November 25, 2021 2:23 pm

But of course the climate was so stable before the Industrial Revolution, and all climate change is caused by industry/sarc

Keith Rowe
November 25, 2021 2:28 pm

Seems suspect of observer preconceptions. 4,200 years ago the world changed considerably and there was mass changes all over the world causing worldwide civilization collapse. It got colder, glaciers started to grow in the neoglaciation movement. Changes in weather likely as the oceans cycled. What they were growing before might now have been growing or perhaps like the Mississippi civilization of NA the increased waters made it so that the intensive hydraulic engineering wasn’t required and the need for overwrought governmental and religious tight control of things changed and they were overrun by neighbours that were previously held a bay because of ready resources to exploit without the need for massive engineering infrastructure.

Gary K Hoffman
Reply to  Keith Rowe
November 25, 2021 2:34 pm

There was a worldwide civilization collapse in 2200 BCE? News to me. I hope you’re not thinking of the collapse of bronze age Mediterranean civilizations in about 1200 BCE.

Reply to  Gary K Hoffman
November 25, 2021 3:00 pm shows a temperature dip around that time, but the scale is too small to be sure.

Reply to  Gary K Hoffman
November 25, 2021 3:04 pm

I believe he is saying that civilizations all over the world collapsed at about the same time.

Mike Edwards
Reply to  Keith Rowe
November 25, 2021 3:32 pm

It is amusing to note that the Wiki article on the “4.2 kiloyear event” claims it to be an aridification event – including for the Liangzhu culture in China. This is the complete opposite of what is being claimed in this new paper – i.e. massive flooding. Although the dates in the new paper are before 4.200 years ago…

To bed B
Reply to  Mike Edwards
November 26, 2021 10:59 am

Doubtful that global rainfall dropped significantly. More likely that places dependent on monsoons were affected more dramatically by their absence. What goes up must come down, not necessarily on land, so other places could have been affected by unnecessary summer rains.

Reply to  Keith Rowe
November 25, 2021 2:57 pm

There is a kink in the carbon 14 dating curve a tad before 2000 BCE. That period also saw the “First Intermediate Period” in Egypt with the total collapse of the Old Kingdom. It is potentially possible it was a more general phenomenon but it will take a lot more research to demonstrate that.

November 25, 2021 2:55 pm

It’s sad how the climate warriors have so debased “climate change” that honest phrases like “to investigate a possible climatic cause of this collapse” arouse suspicion. Climate change has caused many changes in civilizations over the years, both good and bad. Will “climate change” become as verboten a phrase as “eugenics” once the climate starts cooling and all the climate warriors execute an about face? Will dredging it up in their past tweets spur a #YouToo flurry of cancel culture?

November 25, 2021 3:26 pm

I suspect “climate change” has been the downfall of many ancient cultures.

Reply to  John VC
November 25, 2021 4:26 pm

Normally (but not exclusively ) a temperature downturn .

Richard Page
Reply to  John VC
November 26, 2021 5:07 am

Hardly a downfall, despite the complete negativity of the article. Probably it should be considered a success story – city built conveniently close to water source gets repeatedly flooded so gets abandoned as people head for higher ground away from flood-prone areas. A success story with a lesson for modern building practices.

Reply to  John VC
November 26, 2021 8:40 am

Regime change also helped….

November 25, 2021 3:33 pm

I find this interesting. I have been reading about the CCP preparing for a major global cooling event (perhaps one of the reasons for their big push for expanding their power capabilities) based upon their rather complete historical records that showed major dynastic collapses at the time of cooling events.

Of course folks here have been complaining for years that, contrary to the “narrative”, many more people die from cold than heat.

Apparently so do cultures…

Reply to  Kpar
November 25, 2021 8:52 pm

Indeed. link

Never mind Dr. Mann’s fraudulent cooked up hockey stick. Written history in both Europe and China attest to a naturally changing climate. Mann and his ilk are natural variability deniers.

If we’re going to prepare for any kind of catastrophic climate change, it would be cooling, not warming, that we have to worry about.

China has a different history than Europe. China’s warring states period was over by the year zero. In Europe it ended (assuming it really did) much more recently. That allows Chinese historians to examine the effects of factors like climate change which are buried in the noise of European history.

Reply to  commieBob
November 26, 2021 4:26 pm

Thanks for that, commieBob. That was not the article to which I referred, but I cannot remember exactly where I saw it.

I appreciate the link and the backup.

Tom Abbott
November 25, 2021 3:50 pm

Maybe a comet strike knocked the civilization out.

I said that just so I could introduce an idea I just read about. It seems that asteriod strikes can leave behind signs of themselves. Not just craters, as you would suppose, but magnetism differences in the rock.

A new study says an asteriod strike creates, among other things, a plasma field as it travels through the atmosphere and this plasma field can permanetly change the magnetic readings of rocks it impacts. So rocks not affected would look one way magnetically, and the rocks affected by the plasma would look differently.

And, I suppose a comet would have pretty much the same effect on the ground underneath it’s impact zone, so we might be able to locate comet impacts even though they don’t leave much of a crater, or any crater at all.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Tom Abbott
November 25, 2021 4:09 pm

Or maybe they were the inhabitants of a B Ark, and just couldn’t deal with real life.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
November 26, 2021 7:37 am

Or maybe they were decimated by an outbreak of SARS-CoV-0 . . . you know the meme, all those darn bat caves in China and so forth.

Chris Hanley
November 25, 2021 4:19 pm

… the collapse of the Liangzhu culture, which, according to archaeological findings, happened about 4300 years ago … a period of extremely high precipitation …

GISP2 indicates that the NH was almost as cold as the 18 – 19th centuries CE, I’m not sure how that tallies with cold climates supposedly associated with relative dryness.

Last edited 3 days ago by Chris Hanley
November 25, 2021 4:21 pm

So 21 years of heavier than normal rain is Climate Change? Nothing in the abstract you printed stated this.

November 25, 2021 4:22 pm

Not hard to imagine that the Yangtze could generate such a flood. Look at what took place this year with those huge floods along that river. If they didn’t have Three Gorges Dam and the rest of their storage reservoirs, then many of their cities would have been inundated even worse than they were.

As it is Chinese citizens have recently been buying large amounts of rice due to some of the negative statements made by the CCP which suggested that China mat see some level of food scarcity. China lost a lot of crops over the course of this year due to the heavy rains and unseasonable conditions.

Smart Rock
November 25, 2021 4:46 pm

Ridiculous. Everyone knows that Earth’s climate was stable for 10,000 years until the white patriarchy invented the industrial revolution and ruined everything. Natural climate change? Give me a break. Just another denialist fantasy, probably funded by big oil. /s

Last edited 3 days ago by Smart Rock
November 25, 2021 5:15 pm

China does not have a patent for freak weather:
 In the 1840s and 1850s, California was exceptionally dry, so by the fall of 1861, California ranchers were hoping for rain. In late November they got what they were wishing for—and then some. It didn’t stop raining for 43 days, and by January 1862, the Central Valley was filled with an inland sea. It was the largest flood in the recorded history of California. Huge storms like these are now known as atmospheric rivers. Atmospheric rivers strike the U.S. West Coast several times a year on average, but can strike even more often in a particularly stormy year. Megastorm atmospheric rivers, like struck in 1861-1862, occur about every 150 to 200 years and probably pose a greater risk to the state than earthquakes.

See also the Great Biblical Flood, 40 days and nights of rain.

Last edited 3 days ago by Curious George
November 25, 2021 5:26 pm

After reading the article I was reminded of a far more recent collapse of a great civilization in Cambodia, the Khmer Empire which existed for around 500 years in the region around Angkor Wat.

During the transition from the MWP to the LIA, there were a number of extreme and disruptive weather events which also affected Cambodia. For several years, the monsoons never arrived, and drought prevailed, which resulted in the migration of a large part of the population to other parts of Cambodia.

The drought was followed by excessive flooding for a number of years, which resulted in yet more migration to other areas. The Thais, who were the traditional enemies of the Khmers, then invaded, and that great civilization was abandoned and lost in the jungle until the French colonialists discovered the ruins in the 19th century.

This is one of my favourite tourist destinations. The ruins, the many sculptures and bas reliefs, are amazing.

Reply to  Vincent
November 26, 2021 5:09 am

The Thais found no-one at Ankhor Wat – it was abandoned except for a few Buddist monks, the irrigation system in disrepair, silted up. In other words the great civilization had gone back to nature, Green.
There are other cases of invaders finding a recently collapsed civilization from its own internal reasons.
Now look at the transatlantic – a COP26 at the Pyramid of Glasgow praying for the Sun to rise. Or as Jonathan Swift wrote in Gulliver – the End of the World Ball.

Reply to  bonbon
November 26, 2021 5:59 pm

“The Thais found no-one at Ankhor Wat – it was abandoned except for a few Buddist monks, the irrigation system in disrepair, silted up. In other words the great civilization had gone back to nature, Green.
There are other cases of invaders finding a recently collapsed civilization from its own internal reasons.”

Where do you get your information from? It’s an over-simplification to attribute the collapse of an empire to a single cause. There are usually many contributing factors. In the case of the Khmer empire, the role of a rapid change in climate during just a few decades, has been a recent discovery resulting from an analysis of tree rings, sediments, and LIDAR scanning.

Previously it was thought that the Thai invasion was the main cause of the collapse. However, my impression is, there were three very broad causes that occurred during the same period and which would have had related influences. For example, during the time of the rapid change in climate there was also a change in religion from Hinduism to Buddhism, which would no doubt have affected the power structure of the rulers and perhaps contributed to the emigration resulting from the change in climate.

The notion that the entire Khmer civilization was ‘lost in the jungle’ is perhaps exaggerated. From the following Wikipedia article:

“Angkor was besieged by the Ayutthayan king Uthong in 1352, and following its capture the next year, the Khmer monarch was replaced with successive Siamese princes. Then in 1357, the Khmer king Suryavamsa Rajadhiraja regained the throne. In 1393, the Ayutthayan king Ramesuan besieged Angkor again, capturing it the next year. Ramesuan’s son ruled Khmer a short time before being assassinated. Finally, in 1431, the Khmer king Ponhea Yat abandoned Angkor as indefensible, and moved to the Phnom Penh area.”

“According to the Chinese traveler Zhou Daguan, who stayed in Yaśodharapura between 1296 and 1297, the Sukhothai Kingdom laid waste to Khmer lands in repeated wars. According to Zhou, the Khmer soldiers fought naked and barefoot, wielding only lance and shield.”

The following articles are also informative.

Ulric Lyons
November 25, 2021 8:07 pm

That was during a centennial solar minimum starting 4343 years ago, it must have been a deep one. Followed by a grand solar minimum series starting 2225 BC.

November 26, 2021 12:14 am

Nothing new there, East Roman Empire, Byzantine was severely affected by North Europe’s climate change and cooling in 6th and 7th century, when hordes of Slavic barbarians (including my ancestors) moved all the way from shores of Baltic’s down to areas along Adriatic and Black seas.
comment image
(blue line is reconstruction usually referred to by competent science)

Peta of Newark
November 26, 2021 12:33 am

Aw, those sweet little butter wouldn’t melt humans. Put upon by tht hideous Climate and Natural Variation
‘advanced‘ they were too
yeah right

Advanced backwards and accelerating so with their collective feet-to-the-floor
(In all probability and exactly as now, with heads up and eyes to the sky, counting dancing faeries and admiring the clouds)

Quote(1):Massive flooding triggered by anomalously intense monsoon rains caused the collapse’
Quote(2):”y had an elaborate water management system”

Lets Grow-A-Pair and translate those quotes shall we:
They chopped. slashed, burned, hunted, over-hunted, ploughed, grazed, over-grazed and irrigated their (farm) lands to the point of utter destruction.
They created a desert all around themselves

And when some ‘desert weather’ occurred – it became:
Natural Variation and Climate Change

Point being: If we, right here and now don’t learn from that, we are (ALL OF US next time coming soon) going the exact same way.
Theirs was a local event, we are going down Big Time Global.

November 26, 2021 12:38 am

Climate Change

This is another example of propaganda, look at the houses on the waterfront and the many others further back in the photograph;

Reply to  Dennis
November 26, 2021 1:33 pm

That photo of those housed on the beach is fake no wave c\scouring and the shadows are not consistant with the other houses

Joao Martins
November 26, 2021 2:19 am

I wonder if the Big Bang that created the universe as we know it was caused by climate change…

Reply to  Joao Martins
November 26, 2021 5:12 am

Since the Big Bang was a Jesuit’s , Lemaitre, idea of the Cosmic Egg, and the current Jesuit Pope fervently believes in climate, you may be onto something!

Last edited 3 days ago by bonbon
Rich Davis
Reply to  Joao Martins
November 26, 2021 6:13 am

No, can’t be, Joao. The effects of Climate Change ™ are always negative. Also it requires humans (preferably white European male oppressive humans who oppose socialism) to cause Climate Change ™!

Joao Martins
Reply to  Rich Davis
November 26, 2021 7:43 am

Are you implying that Climate Change ™ understands facts and chronologies the same way you, incredulous disbeliever? Have you not heard yet of alternative chronologies?… And your “facts”, those naugthy, impertinent things, your “facts” are good for what?

Rich Davis
Reply to  Joao Martins
November 26, 2021 5:12 pm

Climate Change ™ only understands The Narrative. The Narrative cares nothing about facts or chronologies, Joao. Facts and chronologies must conform to The Narrative and not the other way around. For example consider the Hockey Stick graph.

Well, at least the present pope found something to believe in after all. Catholic doctrine didn’t seem to satisfy him.

Joao Martins
Reply to  Rich Davis
November 27, 2021 4:51 am

I agree with you; Climate Change ™ is a-factual. Facts don’t exist in its realm.

November 26, 2021 5:24 am

in response to cyclical weather events like La nina would be more correct?
just like it flooded all over the place in stages this yr?

Gordon A. Dressler
November 26, 2021 7:28 am

from the above article: “. . . collapse of the Liangzhu culture, which, according to archaeological findings, happened about 4300 years ago . . .”

You mean to tell me “climate change” happened PRIOR TO the start of mankind’s Industrial Revolution (ca 1850)? Who knew? 🙂

The AGW/CAGW alarmists are not going to be happy with this news.

Look for Greta to be leading protests in Europe next week against this narrative!

To bed B
November 26, 2021 10:39 am

The African Humid Period ended 6000-5000 years ago. About the time this city started. Probably a shift in global weather patterns rather than any “climate change” as it’s used now. Maybe plenty of seasonal rainfall and dry summers created the city, only to be destroyed by summer monsoon rainfall.

Loren Wilson
November 26, 2021 5:16 pm

Recent research shows a severe drought brought an end to the Anasazi culture in the US Southwest. It was much longer than the droughts in recorded history for the area. It appears that flooding will do the same thing.

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