Great flood the­ory could fill a lot of gap­ing holes in his­tory

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Con­tact the writer at chris­davis@chi­nadai­lyusa. com.

The in­ven­tory of flood leg­ends through the ages is long and wide. An­cient Sume­rian myth talks about a king who saved his peo­ple af­ter learn­ing that the gods did not in­tend to spare any­one from an im­pend­ing del­uge. Both Plato and Ovid wrote about a great flood that had oc­curred thou­sands of years be­fore them. In Hindu mythol­ogy, Vishnu took the form of a fish to warn a king of a com­ing flood in time for him to build a great ship and save his fam­ily, a do-it-your­self pro­ject also pulled off suc­cess­fully by Noah in the Bible.

The list goes on — Finn, Welsh and Norse in Europe; Mbuti, Maa­sai and Yoruba in Africa; Maori, Hopi, Navajo all have flood sto­ries. The Inuit rea­soned that only a great flood could ex­plain why you can find sea shells in the moun­tains.

All the leg­endary floods seem to have one thing in com­mon — they punc­tu­ate game-chang­ing his­tor­i­cal events.

That’s what makes the new the­ory about a mega-flood on the Yel­low River so fas­ci­nat­ing. Not only be­cause the ev­i­dence sug­gests that the Great Flood of Chi­nese lore re­ally hap­pened, or that the leg­endary first Em­peror Yu re­ally ex­isted, but the tim­ing of it puts it right on the cusp of China’s tran­si­tion from the Ne­olithic to the Bronze Age, around 1900 BCE, and the emer­gence of the Er­l­i­tou cul­ture.

Em­peror Yu was be­lieved to have said: “The flood is pour­ing forth de­struc­tion, bound­less and over­whelm­ing. It spills over hills and moun­tains,” which is a pretty good de­scrip­tion of the model de­scribed by the ge­ol­o­gists writ­ing in Sci­ence mag­a­zine.

A mas­sive earth­quake sends moun­tain­sides of avalanches crash­ing into the steep Jishi Gorge, cre­at­ing a nat­u­ral dam the height of a 65-story build­ing. Down­stream the Yel­low River slows to a trickle. Up­stream from the block­age, the waters rise, and rise, fill­ing the gorge over a pe­riod of nine months.

Once high enough, the waters be­gin to spill over the dam, which quickly erodes away, open­ing the flood­gates, so to speak. The sci­en­tists fig­ured the wa­ter came down the river val­ley at a rate of half a mil­lion cu­bic me­ters per sec­ond — a tsunami of bib­li­cal pro­por­tions that noth­ing can get out of the way of.

Dar­ryl Granger, a ge­ol­o­gist at Pur­due Uni­ver­sity and coau­thor of the pa­per, tried to put that in per­spec­tive: “That’s roughly equiv­a­lent to the largest flood ever mea­sured on the Ama­zon River, the world’s largest river. It’s among the largest known floods to have hap­pened on Earth dur­ing the past 10,000 years.”

Towns and vil­lages, levees and canals for 1,000 miles down­stream would have been washed away or sub­merged, the au­thors sug­gest. And peo­ple would have been talk­ing about it for years, gen­er­a­tions on end.

Win­ston Churchill was ap­par­ently fond of say­ing that the Chi­nese char­ac­ter for “cri­sis” was a com­bi­na­tion of the char­ac­ters for “dan­ger” and “op­por­tu­nity”.

And an op­por­tu­nity it proved to be for Yu, first em­peror of the Xia Dy­nasty, dredger of canals, dig­ger of chan­nels that drain the deadly tor­rents away and tame them into ser­vice.

“He brings or­der out of the chaos and de­fines the land, sep­a­rat­ing what would be­come the cen­ter of Chi­nese civ­i­liza­tion,” said co-au­thor David Co­hen, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy at Na­tional Tai­wan Uni­ver­sity.

“This out­burst flood pro­vides us with a tan­ta­liz­ing hint that the Xia Dy­nasty might re­ally have ex­isted.”

The the­ory needs more sup­port­ing ev­i­dence to get the en­tire sci­en­tific com­mu­nity on board, but in that won­der­ful way that sci­ence works, re­searchers now know what to look for.

Uni­ver­sity of Washington ge­o­mor­phol­o­gist David Mont­gomery wrote an ac­com­pa­ny­ing com­men­tary for the study in Sci­ence, call­ing the pa­per com­pelling ev­i­dence “for the his­toric­ity of the Great Flood myth,” not­ing that flood myths from var­i­ous cul­tures usu­ally spring from the en­vi­ron­ment they live in.

XIN­HUA

An ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site in the up­per Yel­low River re­gion.

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