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The Western Liaohe River Basin in northeastern China is one of the cradles of ancient Chinese civilization. Archaeological records from this region indicate that human occupation began about 8000 years ago and that agriculture and pastoralism were important activities from an early stage. Very little is known, however, about the effects that these activities had upon the landscape. This paper presents the results of a palaeoecological study from a 3.6 m sedimentary sequence in a relict oxbow lake in the Western Liaohe River Basin of southeast Inner Mongolia. The 5400-yr sequence indicates that human activities had a noticeable impact on an apparently open landscape. Buckwheat cultivation began as early as 5400 cal. yr BP with intensification of agricultural activities from approximately 4700 cal. yr BP. Nitrophilous plants such as Solanum and Cerastium, and also Artemisia were growing in the region at certain times, linked with fluctuations in the δ15N record and probably indicative of increased pastoralism and unintentional/ intentional manuring. Burning was probably used for clearance of the steppe vegetation for agriculture with a close relationship apparent between increased influx of microfossil charcoal and the presence of buckwheat. Superimposed upon this record of human impact is also clear indication of three significant intervals of climate change between 2900 and 2600, 1200 and 600 and 600 and 30 cal. yr BP. The latter two are discussed in relation to the 'Mediaeval Warm Period' and 'Little Ice Age' apparent in sedimentary sequences across the Northern Hemisphere. Discussions are therefore made in terms of the impact that both climate change and ancient Chinese civilizations had upon shaping the present day landscape and vegetation. © 2006 SAGE Publications.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1109 - 1121