Journal of Geographical Sciences

, Volume 27, Issue 11, pp 1311–1324 | Cite as

Earth surface processes and their effects on human behavior in monsoonal China during the Pleistocene-Holocene epochs

  • Huayu LuEmail author
  • Haixin Zhuo
  • Wenchao Zhang
  • Shejiang Wang
  • Hongyan Zhang
  • Xuefeng Sun
  • Xin Jia
  • Zhiwei Xu
  • Xianyan Wang


There is a wide diversity of landforms in China. The topography of three major terraces, decreasing in height stepwise from west to east, was formed by the early Miocene. With the commencement of the Great Northern Hemisphere Glaciations (GHGs) and the glacial-interglacial cycles in the Pleistocene, thick loess deposits accumulated in north China, and fluvial terraces were formed and lakes expanded and contracted in eastern and central China. The earliest evidence of hominins in China is dated to ∼1.7 Ma; they occupied the monsoon-dominated region for a long interval, until the late Pleistocene, ∼50 ka. In this study, we investigated a large area rich in the relics and artifacts of early man. The results indicate that the early humans occupied riverine areas, especially medium-sized fluvial basins, and lake shores. Even in the relatively recent geological past, the occupation and abandonment of settlements were directly forced by the shifting of sand dune fields in the desert-loess transitional zone, which in turn was closely associated with variations in the monsoon climate and vegetation patterns. Our observations indicate that landforms were one of the main determinants of early human behavior, in that loess tableland, large alluvial plains, desert-Gobi areas, and the Tibetan Plateau, were not suitable environments for early human settlement. We infer that the early humans in China adapted their behavior to specific landforms and landform processes. The monsoon climate, which shapes the large-scale step-like pattern of fluvial landforms, promotes vegetation coverage and dominates soil formation, provides a crucial context for early human adaptation. The adaptation of early humans to earth surface processes in East Asia is investigated for the first time in this study. Future investigations will provide further information that will increase our understanding of the linkage between early human behavior and landform processes in East Asia.


earth surface processes early human behavior monsoon Pleistocene Holocene China 


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We are grateful to Prof. Sun Jimin for providing stable carbon isotope data of Yanyu loess-paleosol sequence of Figure 4. We thank Dr. Jan Bloemendal for improving the English. This is a contribution to the 9th International Conference on Geomorphology (New Delhi, India, 2017).


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Copyright information

© Institute of Geographic Science and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR), Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Huayu Lu
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Haixin Zhuo
    • 1
  • Wenchao Zhang
    • 1
  • Shejiang Wang
    • 3
  • Hongyan Zhang
    • 1
  • Xuefeng Sun
    • 1
  • Xin Jia
    • 1
  • Zhiwei Xu
    • 1
  • Xianyan Wang
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Geographic and Oceanographic SciencesNanjing UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Joint Laboratory of Human Evolution and Archaeometry, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and PaleoanthropologyCASBeijingChina

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