Farming community killed by earthquake-related mudflows in China c. 4000 years ago

Recent archaeoseismological studies have provided us with spectacular examples of skeletons as earthquake archaeological effects. Cases include the Neolithic skeletons of Tell es-Sultan, ancient Jericho (one of them beheaded by a fracture crossing the site!) published by Alfonsi et al. in SRL (2012) and the skeletons smashed by building collapse reported by Berberian et al. in JAS (2012).

To this list should now be added the case of Lajia (Guanting Basin, central China), where a team of Chinese researchers uncovered a series of skeletons buried under a thick layer of clay interpreted as the result of an enormous, earthquake-related mudflow c. 3950 cal BP. Storm rains, enhanced human activities and land disturbance during the 4200-4000 cal BP climatic event would have made the Guanting Basin landscape increasingly prone to mass-wasting events and a M 7 earthquake is called upon by the authors to explain the fateful end of Lajia. Primary earthquake effects consist of fractures crossing the archaeological remains and underlying riverbank loess. Although the authors (p. 1593) relate the seismic event to “the major faults at the foot of the Lajishan and the Jishishan Mountains”, it is not obvious from the paper how the earthquake magnitude was estimated.

More photos of the Lajia site can be found here


Alfonsi, L., F. R. Cinti, D. Di Mauro, and S. Marco (2012). Archaeoseismic evidence of two Neolithic (7,500-6,000 B.C.) earthquakes at Tell es-Sultan, ancient Jericho, Dead Sea Fault, Seismological Research Letters 83, 639-648.

Berberian, M., S. M. Shahmirzādi, J. Nokandeh, and M. Djamali (2012). Archeoseismicity and environmental crises at the Sialk mounds, central Iranian plateau, since the Early Neolithic, Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 2845-2858.

Huang, C. C., J. Pang, Y. Zhou, H. Su, Y. Zhang, and L. Wang (2013). Palaeoenvironmental implications of the prehistorical catastrophes in relation to the Lajia ruins within the Guanting Basin along the Upper Yellow River, China, The Holocene 23, 1584-1595.

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Simon Jusseret

Simon Jusseret

is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin (USA) and a member of the Aegean Interdisciplinary Studies research group at Universite catholique de Louvain (Belgium)

See all posts Simon Jusseret

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