Water and Early City Development in Southeast China: Geoarchaeology Case Study of the Ancient Liangzhu City

Lian, Huiru 

Thumbnail Image
Change log

Water has been cited as a key factor in influencing the emergence of complex society and the development of early cities throughout the world prehistory. Lianghzu, one of the earliest ‘state’ societies in East Asia dated from 3300 to 2300 BC, is characterised by its elaborate jade artefacts and hierarchical social structure. The centre of this culture is the 300 ha Liangzhu City located in the Hangzhou Bay area where complex hydraulic systems and waterways have been discovered near colossal man-made earthen mounds. Very little is known about how changes in the local hydrology affected the construction and development of Liangzhu City or how water influenced the complexity of the Liangzhu Culture.By focusing on Liangzhu City and its nearby landscape, this study applied a series of geoarchaeological methods – namely soil micromorphology, bulk sedimentology, and GIS-modelling – to investigate and model the long-term human-landscape relationships between Liangzhu city, its surrounding landscape and its hydraulic regime. GIS data were processed to reconstruct regional hydrological conditions. Soil profiles were sampled from the Zhongjiagang Watercourse inside Liangzhu City to understand the nature of the infillings and water sequences of this inner-city waterway throughout different stages of city development and its relationship with the near bank mound construction. Settlement sites within the city were studied to examine patterns and details of occupational sequences and their long-term relationship to the changes in local hydrological regimes. Additionally, a series of settlements and profiles outside the city were also sampled in order to understand the sedimentation processes, changes in hydrological conditions, and the interactions of human occupation and local landscape at a regional scale. In this research, the major climate and hydrological shifts and the associated cultural responses have been determined from high-resolution sedimentation records, with the changing water regime considered as one of the most important factors influencing the appearance, development and the demise of Liangzhu City. This detailed geoarchaeological research study of Liangzhu City will enhance our understanding of how the management and exploitation of water has contributed to the formation of early state societies, and how changing hydrological conditions contributed to the development and destruction of one of the earliest known cities in East Asia.

French, Charles
Geoarchaeology, Soil micromorphology, Liangzhu Culture
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
China Scholarship Council