A new discovery suggests that it happened—but there is more at stake here than archaeologyby Philip Ball / August 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
The discovery of geological evidence for a massive flood on the Yellow River around 4000 years ago will surely delight the Chinese authorities. According to a paper published in Science by a team of primarily Chinese archaeologists and geographers, this event lends support to the ancient idea of a prehistoric civilization called the Xia dynasty, based in the lower Yellow River basin: the first manifestation of the Chinese state which, after a succession of other imperial dynasties, now resides in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.
News reports of the discovery, including a commentary in Science itself, have pretty much universally accepted the story put forth in the paper. The scientific results, say its authors, show that the myth of a Great Flood, from which the Xia was said to have emerged, could be based on a real historical event. The researchers also say that their work supports arguments that this Xia dynasty can be identified with a Bronze Age culture whose artifacts have been excavated at a site at Erlitou in Henan province in central northern China. This finding, they imply, offers a rejoinder to those scholars who have seen the Xia dynasty “purely as a myth fabricated to justify political succession.”
But within that passing comment is a story that needs careful unpacking before we swallow the headlines. The politicised nature of these claims has been totally ignored in the news c…