Dams, moats, and cities: climate and societies in late-Holocene China

by Yijie Zhuang

11 Nov 2021
Journal of the British Academy, volume 9 (2021)
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Abstract: Whilst the late-Holocene climate was becoming drier with an increasing number of climatic anomalies, with notably more frequent fluctuations in summer rainfall on an annual or decadal scale, many walled sites or cities emerged and became regional centres that witnessed population agglomeration and technological flowering. To feed their growing populations and their increasing demands on land, water, food, and other resources, these ‘cities’ were drawn closer physically to riverine environments and wetlands. By diversifying and intensifying their subsistence strategies, and constructing infrastructure on a colossal scale, these late-Holocene walled towns or cities also fundamentally transformed their local landscapes. Examining key sites from the Huai river and the Yangtze Delta, this paper will compare the dynamic interactions between society, landscape, and the environment under different socio-economic conditions across different regions of late-Holocene China and investigate how these factors influenced and led to the emergence of complex societies or early states.

Keywords: Water management, moats, dams, late Holocene, Liangzhu, China.

Elsley Zeitlyn Lecture on Chinese Archaeology and Culture, read 6 February 2019.

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