Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2017, Vol. 27 ›› Issue (11): 1311-1324.doi: 10.1007/s11442-017-1437-x

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

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

Huayu LU1,2(), Haixin ZHUO1, Wenchao ZHANG1, Shejiang WANG3, Hongyan ZHANG1, Xuefeng SUN1, Xin JIA1, Zhiwei XU1, Xianyan WANG1   

  1. 1. School of Geographic and Oceanographic Sciences, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210023, China
    2. CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    3. Joint Laboratory of Human Evolution and Archaeometry, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, CAS, Beijing 100044, China
  • Received:2016-06-23 Accepted:2017-07-31 Online:2017-11-10 Published:2017-09-07
  • About author:

    Author: Lu Huayu, Professor, specialized in long-time climatic change, aeolian and fluvial geomorphology and early human environment reconstruction. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41472138, No.41401220, No.41472026;The CAS Strategic Priority Research Program Grant B, No.XDPB05;The Ministry of Science and Technology of China, No.2016YFA0600503


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.

Key words: earth surface processes, early human behavior, monsoon, Pleistocene, Holocene, China