The Sanyangzhuang Project: Holocene Climate Change, Landscape Evolution, and Human Response in the Lower Yellow River Floodplain, Henan Province, China


The Yellow River valley is the cradle of Chinese civilization and has been a major focus of recent archaeological research. A good deal of recent geoarchaeological research has been directed towards the early episodes of China’s history during the Neolithic and Bronze ages. This project, however, is focused on understanding floodplain evolution and its relation to flooding and culture history during the last 3500 years in northern Henan Province. We are conducting research at the Sanyangzhuang site. Described as China’s Pompeii, Sanyangzhuang was buried by a significant flood in the period ca. 0-70 A.C.E. Because the Sanyangzhuang flooding began as a low energy event, the site, which consists of four excavated agricultural house compounds and surrounding ridged agricultural fields, was slowly buried by fine-grained sediments leading to remarkable preservation of archaeological features. Initial geoarchaeological work focuses on reconstructing the flood history and dynamics at the site and locality level. Future work will expand research through coring and perhaps further excavation to a larger area. Additional work is directed to understanding Han and pre-Han culture histories and their relation to Yellow River flooding and landscape evolution through deep testing and coring. Work in the summer of 2009 demonstrated at least two pre-Han buried ridged-fields lie beneath parts of the Sanyangzhuang site suggesting a complex flood history and attendant cultural adjustments. This research is a collaborative effort with the Henan Provincial Archaeological Institute and the College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Peking University.

Presentations and Media

Kidder, Tristram R.
2009            China's Sorrow: 3500 Years of Floods, Droughts and Culture Change in the Yellow River Floodplain, Henan Province, China. Visiting Lecture presentation, Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Liu, Haiwang, Yuqin Song, Ling-yu Hung and Tristram R. Kidder
2010 Excavations at Sanyangzhuang: A Deeply Buried Han Dynasty site in Henan Province. Paper presented at the symposium "Recent Research in South and East Asia, " 75th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, St. Louis.

Kidder, Tristram R.
2010 Geoarchaeology at Sanyangzhuang: A Preliminary Report. Submitted to the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Zhengzhou. (pdf)

Featured research in Science,vol 328, 30 April 2010 "Uncovering a Rural Chinese Pompeii" by Andrew Lawler. (pdf)

Press Release on Sanyangzhuang:





Washington University in St. Louis | School of Arts and Sciences | Anthropology Department