Holocene sea-level change and the emergence of Neolithic seafaring in the Fuzhou Basin (Fujian, China)
Neolithic seafaring across the Taiwan Strait began approximately 5000 years ago and involved open-sea voyages over distances of at least 130 km. Rapid sea-level rise preceded the emergence of open-sea voyaging, but the possible role of environmental change as a stimulus for the development of seafaring is poorly understood. We investigate this problem by presenting a record of Holocene sea-level change and coastal transformation based on sediment cores obtained from the Fuzhou Basin on the coast of Fujian, China. The cores are located in direct proximity to archaeological sites of the Tanshishan Neolithic culture (5000-4300 cal BP), which is significant for its similarity to the earliest Neolithic cultures of Taiwan. Multiple lines of evidence record the early Holocene inundation of the Fuzhou Basin around 9000 cal BP, the mid-Holocene sea-level highstand, and the final Holocene marine transgression. This final transition is precisely documented, with AMS dates showing the change occurred close to 1900 cal BP. Our paleogeographic reconstruction shows that a large estuary filled the Fuzhou Basin during the mid-Holocene. Tanshishan and Zhuangbianshan, two of the major Fuzhou Basin Neolithic sites, are located today on hills nearly 80 km from the modern coastline. However, when the sites were settled around 5500-5000 cal BP, the marine transgression had transformed these hills into islands in the upper estuary. We suggest that the Neolithic era estuary setting, together with the lack of land suitable for rice paddy agriculture, inhibited intensive food production but favored a maritime orientation and the development of seafaring.