Fluvial terrace formation and its impacts on early human settlement in the Hanzhong basin, Qinling Mountains, central China

Xun Yang, Xianyan Wang*, Ronald T. Van Balen, Maarten A. Prins, Shejiang Wang, Unze van Buuren, Huayu Lu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The Qinling Mountains (QLM) form the climatic boundary between the temperate north and subtropical south of China. Many important Paleolithic archaeological sites located on fluvial terraces in this area have been reported in recent decades. Abundant artifacts have been excavated in silt layers overlying fluvial gravels and coarse sands. These silt layers have thus far been interpreted as aeolian deposits. However, in principle they could also represent (in part) fluvial (floodplain) deposits, especially near the base of fine-grained sequences. Reconstruction of fluvial terrace formation is crucial for the correct interpretation of the environment of hominin occupation. In this paper, two sediment sequences from two Paleolithic sites, located on different terrace levels of the Hanjiang River in the Hanzhong basin, are studied mainly using grain-size and grain-shape analyses. In addition, grain-size distributions have been unraveled by applying end-member modelling to distinguish different sedimentary environments. The results show that three different units can be discriminated in each section. The lower unit, consisting of gravelly sand mixed with fine silt, is interpreted as shallow-channel-fill sediment deposited during the start of the transition from a channel to a floodplain environment. The middle unit comprises a fine-grained, gradually fining-upward sequence, representative a floodplain environment. At its base, it reflects a high-energy floodplain situation; at its top, the sequence is interpreted as a low-energy floodplain environment with aeolian input (settling in static water). The third, uppermost unit consists of aeolian loess interbedded with paleosol(s) and sediments that are interpreted as the results of episodic surface runoff. The gradual transition between the 3 units and the gradual fining upward trend of the middle unit indicates that there is no considerable age gap (no hiatus) between the fluvial- and aeolian sedimentary environments. Stone artifacts have been found in all 3 units, with difference abundance, indicating that both the aeolian and floodplain depositional environments provided favorable living conditions. For the floodplain environment, the resources of water and raw materials (fluvial gravels) for tool making may have offered fundamental resources for hominin settlement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Early online date11 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • Floodplain
  • Grain shape
  • Grain size
  • Hanzhong basin
  • Hominin settlement
  • Loess
  • Sedimentary environment


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