More than 4,000 years ago, a Chinese legend says a great flood engulfed the country, swept away settlements and submerged heaven itself. The story tells how Emperor Yu redirected channels and drove back the flood waters, thus being the righteous founder of China's first dynasty, the Xia.
Until now, such accounts of the Great Flood were treated mythologically and even as propaganda to justify the imperial rule, due to lack of evidence.
But on Thursday, August 3, a group of scientists in China published a paper wherein they claimed to have found proof that the mythical Great Flood is indeed true. An international collaboration led by Wu Qianlong has come to this conclusion through the radiocarbon dating of juvenile bones and soil samples along the Yellow River. The Chinese-led team deduced that in the year 1920 BC, an earthquake triggered a massive landslide and dammed the waterway which then broke and caused the flood, writes ABC News.
The story of the research begins in 2007. Dr Wu, a former Peking University seismologist, was conducting research on rocks around the Yellow River when he and his colleagues stumbled on deposits that suspiciously looked like they were "outburst flood sediments." The sediments so appeared that they had been swiftly deposited by a massive flood, prompting Wu to hypothesize that the myths had some truth in them.
First, a major earthquake hit the region, causing a humongous landslide which dammed the Yellow River, according to an article by Gizmodo. Nearly 15 million liters of water built up behind the dam – which rose as high as 800 feet above the present levels of the river – near Jishi Gorge, located at the edge of the Tibetan plateau, for six to nine months. Then, as the waters of the resulting lake overtopped the crest of the dam, it weakened and eventually collapsed, triggering one of the largest floods known to mankind.
The outburst flood might have traveled as far as 1,250 miles downstream, submerging the North China Plain, where the Chinese civilization is believed to have sprouted, and also causing the Yellow River to re-route its flow. The speed at which the waters surged forward is predicted, using a standard engineering equation, to have been between 300,000 to 500,000 cubic meters per second.
Meanwhile, the results might also support the existence of the Xia dynasty, whose legendary Emperor Yu is said to have been based around Jishi Gorge. The proof of the mega-flood in line with the myths "provides us with a tantalizing hint that the Xia dynasty might really have existed," said David Cohen of National Taiwan University, another co-author of the paper. The results also predate the start of the dynasty by several centuries, around the time of a change from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age.
The paper, which proved the Chinese Great Flood of the myths to be true, was published this week in the journal Science.
[Photo by China Photos/Getty Images]