The 5400 a BP extreme weakening event of the Asian summer monsoon and cultural evolution

Yi Jun Bai, Ping Zhong Zhang, Tao Gao, Ren Zhe Yu, Peng Chao Zhou, Hai Cheng

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26 Scopus citations


We explored a time series of the Asian summer monsoon (ASM) variability during the transition period from the middle to the late Holocene in the marginal Asian monsoon region. We used an absolutely dated 230Th record with only a ~20-year dating error, and oxygen isotope data with an 8-year average temporal resolution from the top 22-mm segment of stalagmite WXB07-4 from Wanxiang Cave, western Loess Plateau. The ASM intensity weakened gradually from 6420 to 4920 a BP, which was mainly characterized by three phases: (1) a strengthening phase with a higher precipitation amount between 6420 and 6170 a BP; (2) a smooth fluctuating interval during 6170–5700 a BP; and (3) a sudden extreme weakening period from 5700 to 4920 a BP. Interestingly, the extreme weakening interval of the ASM occurred during the period between 5700 and 4920 a BP, an abrupt change dated at 5430 a BP, which is known as the 5400 a BP, or 5.4 ka BP, event. The period included 290 years of gradual weakening, and 350 years of slow strengthening. This was synchronous with some cave records from the Asian monsoon region within dating errors. Comparing with Chinese archaeological archives over the past 7000 years, the early decline of the Yangshao Culture in the Yellow River Basin and the Hongshan Culture in the West Liao River Basin occurred during the period of gradual decrease of ASM precipitation. The dramatic decline in precipitation, caused by the extreme weakening of the ASM at 5400 a BP, may have been partly related to the decline of the Miaodigou Culture at the Yangguanzhai site in the Weihe River valley; the middle Yangshao Culture in western Henan in the Yellow River Basin; the early Dawenkou Culture on the lower reaches of the Yellow River; and the middle Hongshan Culture in the west of the Liaohe River valley. During the later period of the 5400 a BP event (5430–4920 a BP), a small amplitude increase and a subsequent sharp decrease of ASM precipitation may have also been linked to the contemporaneous prosperity and disappearance of the late Yangshao and Hongshan cultures; the disappearance of the late Yangshao Culture represented by the Yangguanzhai site in the Guanzhong basin on the Weihe River; the fourth phase of the late Yangshao Culture on the upstream Dadiwan site; the beginning of the middle Dawenkou Culture, the formation of its late stage, and the rise of the Longshan culture; and the rise of the Qujialing and Liangzhu cultures on the lower Yangtze River. Compared with the stalagmite precipitation records on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the rise and expansion of the Majiayao Culture in the upper Yellow River valley at 5300 a BP may have also been connected to the more dramatic increase of the summer monsoon precipitation at higher, rather than lower, altitudes during the late 5400 a BP event.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1171-1182
Number of pages12
JournalScience China Earth Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Science China Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • 5400 a BP extreme weakening event
  • Asian summer monsoon
  • Wanxiang Cave stalagmite oxygen isotope
  • late Neolithic culture evolution
  • western Loess Plateau


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