5,100-year-old Hydraulic System Found in China

one of the oldest known and most extensive hydraulic engineering projects in the world.

The recently excavated Liangzhu hydraulic system in the Yangtze Delta has pushed back the date of formalized water engineering in China to approximately 5,100 years ago. The results are unprecedented in learning about the timing, structure, and function of a large-scale complex of dams, levees, ditches, and other water-controlling features in ancient China. Together with the well-excavated remains of Liangzhu city and its rice fields, the new findings represent one of the largest efforts of hydraulic landscape engineering in the ancient world. from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

5,100-year-old Hydraulic System Found in China is the Oldest in the World

A Liangzhu period structure of the Meirendi bank with wooden planks still standing upright.

Four years of excavations have unearthed an immense water engineering project created in China about 5,100 years ago. This predates the oldest known comparable system; which is from Mesopotamia and dates to around 4,900 years ago.

It only took about a decade for the estimated 3,000 people to build the water management system and researchers needed almost half that time to excavate it. Newsweek reports that researcherswere working at the site from 2009 to 2013. The team used archaeological samples, remote sensing data, geographic modeling, and satellite imagery while trying to discern how water was managed in the Yangtze Delta region between 5300 BC and 4300 BC. Speaking on the time estimate for the construction of the engineering project, study author Yijie Zhuang of the University College London, told Newsweek that “the dams were built surprisingly quickly given their sheer scale.”

The archaeological investigation unearthed a large and intricate system of high dams, low dams, and levees. The researchers write in their paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) “together with the well-excavated remains of Liangzhu city and its rice fields, the new findings represent one of the largest efforts of hydraulic landscape engineering in the ancient world.”   They propose that this system is one of the oldest known and most extensive hydraulic engineering projects in the world.

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