Title

Anthropogenic hillslope terraces and swidden agriculture in Jiuzhaigou National Park, northern Sichuan, China

Abstract

Small, irregular terraces on hillslopes, or terracettes, are common landscape features throughout west central China. Despite their prevalence, there is limited understanding of the nature of these topographic features, the processes that form them, and the role humans played in their formation. We used an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the geology, ecology, and cultural history of terracette development within Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan Province, China. Terracettes occur on south facing, 20° slopes at 2500 m elevation, which appears to coincide with places people historically preferred to build villages. Ethnographic interviews suggest that traditional swidden agricultural cycles removed tree roots, causing the loess sediments to lose cohesion, slump, and the terrace risers to retreat uphill over time. This evidence is supported by landslide debris at terracette faces. Archaeological analysis of terracette sites reveal remains of rammed spread soil structures, bones, stone tools, and ceramics dating from at least 2200 years before present within a distinct paleosol layer. Radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence dating of terracette sediments ranged in age from between 1500 and 2000 14C yr BP and between 16 and 0.30 ka, respectively. These multiple lines of evidence indicate a long history of human habitation within Jiuzhaigou National Park and, taken together, suggest strong links between terracette formation and human–landuse interactions.

Publisher

Cambridge University Press

Publication Date

3-1-2012

Publication Title

Quaternary Research

Department

Geology

Document Type

Article

DOI

10.1016/j.yqres.2009.10.001

Language

English

Format

text

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