Holocene fluctuations in vegetation and human population demonstrate social resilience in the prehistory of the Central Plains of China

WashU affiliated authors: Tristram R. Kidder (Dept. of Anthropology)

Abstract: Archaeologists and palaeoclimatologists have focused on the impact of climate on the prehistoric civilizations around the world; however, social resilience in the face of the climate change remains unclear, especially during the Neolithic and Bronze Age in the Central Plains of China (CPC). In this paper, we present palynological results from the Dahecun Core, Henan Province, China. Our pollen data indicate a warm and wet climate condition from 9200 to 4000 cal BP, which then switches to a cool and dry climatic condition during the Neolithic-Bronze Age transition (~4000–3700 cal BP). We analyze 14C dates from archaeological sites to demonstrate four episodes of population increase and present vegetation dynamics, determined from available pollen data, to provide evidence for the synchronous shifts in vegetation and human population during the Neolithic. Our results indicate that the aridification in the early Bronze Age did not cause population collapse, highlighting the importance of social resilience to climate change. The pollen, radiocarbon dates and archaeobotanical records from the CPC provides new evidence that supports the claim that the development of agriculture and complex societies, under the stress of a dry climate, set the stage for the dramatic increase of human population around 3900–3500 cal BP.