Water Management and Wheat Yields in Ancient China

Zhou, Xinying; Zhu, Lin; Spengler, Robert; Zhao, Keliang; Liu, Junchi; Xu, Xing; Bao, Yige; Dodson, John ; Xu, Hai; Li, Xiaoqiang (2020) Water Management and Wheat Yields in Ancient China: Carbon isotope discrimination of archaeological wheat grains. The Holocene. Online First.

HoloceneThe evaluation of ancient crop production and its response to climate change is key to exploring the ancient demographic and social changes. Wheat is currently the third most widely cultivated crop worldwide and was a major component across of the agricultural systems of the ancient Eurasia. In this study, the Δ13C values of 116 charred wheat grains from 28 archaeological sites, with direct AMS 14C dating of 3952 ± 66 to 389 ± 73 cal yr BP, across northern China are reported. The result shows that the Δ13C values estimated wheat yields ranged from 0.5 to 2.5 Mg ha−1, during the past 4000 years. The water supply and grain yield of wheat cultivation is the highest in China during the Bronze Age; however, the water supply and yield were significantly affected by climate fluctuation in the middle-late Holocene. No significant long-term trend of increasing wheat yield is observed over this interval, but a correlation between Δ13C values estimated wheat yield and cyclical climate changes can be noted.