Saturday, December 10, 2016


Chinese drought inscription,
Davu Cave, Qinling mountains,
China. From Ghose, LiveScience,
August 20, 2015.

A subject in rock art that has long fascinated me is evidence of verifiable events recorded on the rocks. As everyone's daily life is directly impacted by meteorology, that is one area that we should expect to find evidence of in rock inscriptions or pictures. An example of this can be found in inscriptions in Davu Cave, in southeastern China. Located in the Qinling Mountains, this cave contains written inscriptions of droughts occurring in the region and their impact upon the population.

Writing for LiveScience on August 20, 2015, Tia Ghose cited an August 13 article from the journal Scientific Reports that outlined a series of droughts in that area and the inscriptions that record them. The droughts were confirmed by analysis of chemical elements in stalagmites from the cave. Study co-author Sebastian Breitenbach, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Cambridge, England explained that the team analyzed the proportions of carbon, uranium, oxygen, and other isotopes, in stalagmites  to detect climate changes over time that signaled droughts." The amounts of radioactive uranium and carbon, which decay at a known rate, tied specific parts of the stalagmite to particular historic times." (Ghose 2015)  And, "because the water seeping into the cave was likely groundwater, the levels of oxygen and carbon isotopes could provide information about surface conditions outside the cave. The team found that oxygen and carbon levels rose when rainfall was low, suggesting that those markers could reliably reveal when drought conditions occurred." (Ghose 2015)

Comparing this scientific record then with cave inscriptions revealed a very accurate correlation.

"One inscription, which is dated to July 27, 1596, says directly that there is a big drought, and that the writers had come to the cave to get water and pray for rain. Another, dating to 1891m reads: 'On May 24th, 17th year of the Emperor Guangxu period, Qing Dynasty, the local mayor, Huaizong Shu, led more than 200 people into the cave to get water. A fortune-teller named Zhenrong Ran prayed for rain during the ceremony.'" (Ghose 2015)

"Another inscription mentions a Dragon Lake that may have been in the cave." (Ghose 2015)

All in all, records of seven droughts over the past 500 years corresponded quite well with the recorded droughts in the cave formations. The team even used their data from the chemical record and the inscriptions to construct a model to predict future periods of drought in that region. That model predicts that "in the next decade, China is in for more severe and more frequent droughts, though the model can't predict exactly where or when the droughts will occur." (Ghose 2015)

Rock art, not only as a record of the past, but as a predictor of the future. How about that?


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