Incredible discovery reveals the truth behind an ancient Chinese legend

A deluge on the Yellow River 4,000 years ago led to a feat of Bronze Age hydro-engineering.

Ars Technica, By Annalee Newitz, August 5

Ancient Chinese legends tell of a catastrophic flood along the Yellow River that led to the founding of the Xia dynasty, roughly 4,000 years ago. A legendary hero named Yu is said to have established the Xia dynasty after figuring out how to stop the flood waters by dredging, thus marking the dawn of Chinese civilization with a feat of landscape engineering. Now, a group of geoscientists and archaeologists in China has discovered that this flood actually happened.

The group’s recently published findings in Science magazine explain how they found traces of this historic deluge. For more than a century, archaeologists have looked for evidence that could shed light on historical accounts of early Chinese civilization, such as those in first century BCE book Shiji (史記, traditionally translated as Records of the Grand Historian). Many accounts in the Shiji have turned out to be fairly accurate, especially when it came to the Shang dynasty that followed the Xia. Because the Shang dynasty civilization had writing, scientists have been able to verify the Shiji’s accuracy from written records as well as material remains.

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