Chinese flood at Jishi Gorge is not Noah’s Flood


Figure 1. Jishi gorge on Yellow River showing in purple the sediments laid down by the Jishi flood outburst. The location of the prehistoric Lajia site and the remnant dam on the Yellow River are also shown. The Lower Cretaceous Hekou Formation covers most of the area and includes the purple-brown mudrocks and conglomerates shown on the map (from Wu et al. ref. 1).

In August 2016, a team of researchers led by former Peking University seismologist Qianlong Wu said a major landslide, triggered by an earthquake about 4,000 years ago, blocked the Yellow River at Jishi Gorge—about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) west of Beijing—eventually causing an enormous flood.1 The researchers propose that the landslide created a natural dam about 240 m above the present river level behind which a massive body of water built up, estimated at 12 to 17 km3. After six to twelve months the dam overtopped, releasing downstream a torrent of water, mud and debris. Sediments were eroded from the gorge by the dam outburst, transported downstream, and deposited in the lower Jishi Gorge and Guanting Basin. These sediments consisted of angular pieces of rock and other material that were eroded from the gorge. Sediment deposits at the mouth of the gorge are up to 20 m thick and include boulders with a diameter as large as 2 m.

Legend of Emperor Yu

National Palace Museum, TaipeiKing-Yu-of-Xia
Emperor Yu, who devised a system to control a great flood.

The authors suggest their flood explains the legend of Emperor Yu, who is credited with founding the Chinese Xia dynasty. Although their date is later than previous estimates by 200–300 years, they say the actual date is difficult to pin down because the legend survived only orally for a thousand years before its first written version in about 1,000 BC.2 The researchers also link their evidence with the abandonment of human settlement at the prehistoric Lajia site 25 km downstream. The cave dwellings and cultural artifacts at Lajia were buried by a major earthquake, which is why it is referred to as China’s Pompeii. The researchers suggest that the same earthquake that destroyed the Lajia dwellings dammed the river upstream, which eventually lead to the massive flood less than a year later. Sediments from the flood outburst were found at the Lajia site.

Geologist David Montgomery, in a perspective in the Science journal, commented on the idea that the geological evidence could confirm the legend of Emperor Yu.3 He said, “How many other ancient stories of intriguing disasters might just have more than a grain of truth to them?” Montgomery had previously published “The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood”4 claiming it was an exaggerated account of a local flood. In that book and in his Perspective Montgomery continued to suggest the so-called Black Sea local flood was the source of the Noah’s Flood account. Yet he failed to recognize that not one characteristic of the Black Sea flood agrees with the biblical account.5 Nor does he seem to be aware that more recent geologic evidence indicates that the Black Sea flood never happened.6,7 Montgomery’s book and Perspective illustrates the sloppy attitude secularist geologists bring to their investigations of the biblical Flood and flood legends. Rather than engage the evidence seriously, they pick-and-choose speculations from their imagination and ignore details that do not fit their theory.

Different from Noah’s Flood

The researchers refer to their flood as “the Great Flood”, so it is not surprising that many people have confused it with Noah’s Flood, as described in the Bible. Indeed Wu, the lead researcher, made such a comparison saying, “Its importance is just like the story of Noah’s flood in the Western world.”8 But the flood in China and the biblical Flood are two different events. They are different in magnitude, different in their process, and different in their timing. The China flood occurred hundreds of years after the biblical Flood.

To say the China flood is Noah’s Flood puts the latter into the category of exaggerated mythology. Further, it causes us to miss the real and obvious geologic evidence for Noah’s Flood in China.

Although the flood at Jishi Gorge flood was catastrophic it was orders of magnitude smaller than the Flood described in the Bible. Sediments deposited by the Jishi flood are marked in purple in figure 1, the largest area of deposition being some 6 km long and 1 km wide.

The flood in China and the biblical Flood are two different events.

On the other hand, rocks formed during Noah’s Flood are of continental scale and extremely thick.9 Jishi Gorge cuts through Flood sediments described in figure 1 as “purple-brown mudrocks and conglomerates”. These form part of the Lower Cretaceous Hekou Formation,10 which covers an extensive area of China. This is part of the real evidence of Noah’s Flood as preserved in China. Cretaceous sediments in China preserve dinosaur fossil graveyards11 and fossil dinosaur trackways.12 The huge number of remarkably well preserved dinosaur fossils points to continental catastrophe, exactly as expected from Noah’s Flood. The Flood-deposited sediments cover an enormous area, suddenly overwhelming the dinosaurs, which is why they are so well preserved. The abundant footprints indicate that the sediments were deposited as the waters of the Flood were rising, before they reached their peak, by which time all air-breathing land animals had died (Genesis 7:21–23).13

The difference in the magnitude of the two floods is enough to settle the question that the Jishi flood was not Noah’s Flood. However there are other differences as well, some of which I will discuss.

Second, the processes causing the floods were different. The Jishi Gorge flood involved the gradual overtopping and sudden outburst of a natural dam. The biblical Flood involved the breaking of the fountains of the deep and persistent rainfall that caused the water to rise continually upon the land until every high mountain was covered (Genesis 7:19).

Third, there was no Ark involved with the Jishi Gorge flood, as with Noah’s Flood. Noah’s Ark was needed to preserve representatives of each kind of animal alive on the earth (Genesis 6:19–20). This was not necessary for the Jishi flood. Its magnitude was far too small to threaten any animal with extinction.

Fourth, the timescales of the two floods were different. The Jishi Gorge flood involved the draining of water from the natural dam, a process that would have taken at most several days.14 Secondary flooding on the lower plains would have lasted longer. Wu et al’s paper suggests it took decades for the legendary Emperor Yu to dredge and reclaim downstream country inundated by the flood. On the other hand the biblical Flood lasted for more than a year (Genesis 6–8). The water rose continually on the earth for a period of 150 days until it covered the highest mountains. And it took some 220 days to drain from the earth such that those on the Ark could disembark.

Standard practice is to dismiss the Flood as a real event, and so its very real effects on past carbon-14 concentrations are not even considered.

Fifth, the dates for the two floods were different. The year-long biblical Flood occurred about 4,500 years ago (~2500 BC) whereas the Jishi Flood is timed at 1920 BC,1 a difference of several hundred years. However, the Jishi Flood would have occurred more recently than that, probably some 1000 years after Noah’s Flood. The difference is due to significant bias with the carbon-14 dating method for dates in this range.

As per standard practice, the carbon-14 dates quoted for the Jishi flood were not corrected for the disequilibrium of the carbon-14 balance in the atmosphere in the immediate post-Flood period. Standard practice is to dismiss the Flood as a real event, and so its very real effects on past carbon-14 concentrations are not even considered. However, the biblical Flood disrupted the earth’s carbon balance, and it took hundreds of years to gradually build to stable concentrations.15 A carbon-14 calibration factor is required to correct for this. Based on a preliminary analysis16 the date could be younger by some 500 years, moving it from 1920 BC to approximately 1400 BC, which is around the time of Joshua and the conquest of Canaan in the Middle East (this timing is preliminary).


The flood at Jishi Gorge, China, was definitely not the Flood of Noah. When we are relating physical evidence to the historical events in the Bible it is vital that we make the links properly. If we do not correctly link the history of Scripture to the archaeological, geological, and cultural evidence then we end with wrong conclusions. For example, to say the China flood is Noah’s Flood puts the latter, which is carefully documented, into the category of exaggerated mythology. Further, it causes us to miss the obvious geologic evidence for Noah’s Flood in China.

For the China flood addressed in the paper by Wu et al. the first human settlement of China would have occurred after the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9), which was some 200 years after the biblical Flood.17 The prehistoric Lajia site would have been settled after this. If Lajia had been abandoned as a consequence of the earthquake as hypothesized by Wu et al. then the Jishi Gorge flood would have been post biblical Flood and post Babel, possibly as recent as 1400 BC.

Published: 23 August 2016

References and notes

  1. Wu, Q., Zhao, Z., Liu, L., Granger, D.E., Wang, H., Cohen, D.J., Wu, X., Ye, M., Bar-Yosef, O., Lu, B., Zhang, J., Zhang, P., Yuan, D., Qi, W., Cai, L., and Bai, S., Outburst flood at 1920 BCE supports historicity of China’s Great Flood and the Xia dynasty, Science 353(6299):579–582, 5 August 2016; science.sciencemag.org. Return to text.
  2. Webb, J., Rocks tell story of China’s great flood, 4 August 2016; bbc.com. Return to text.
  3. Montgomery, D.R., Emperor Yu’s great flood: Geological data provide support for a legendary flood in China ~4000 years ago, Science 353(6299):538–539, 5 August 2016 | doi: 10.1126/science.aah4040 Return to text.
  4. Montgomery, D.R., The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. Return to text.
  5. Walker, T., The Black Sea flood: Definitely not the Flood of Noah, J. Creation 14(1):40–44, 2000. Return to text.
  6. Aksu, A.E., Hiscott, R.N., Mudie, P.J., Rochon, A., Kaminski, M.A., Abrajano, T. and Yasar, D., Persistent Holocene outflow from Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean contradicts Noah’s Flood Hypothesis, GSA Today 12 (5):4–10, 2002. Return to text.
  7. Walker, T., The Black Sea flood may evaporate completely, J. Creation 16(3):3, 2002. Return to text.
  8. Greshko, M., Geologic Evidence May Support Chinese Flood Legend, 4 August 2016; news.nationalgeographic.com. Return to text.
  9. Walker, T.B., A biblical geologic model; in: Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, Walsh, R.E. (ed), Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp. 581–592, 1994. Return to text.
  10. Yuzhu Zhang, Chun Chang Huang, Jiangli Pang, Yali Zhou, Ruiqing Shang, Qiang Zhou, Yongqiang Guo, Tao Liu and Guiming Hu, OSL dating of the massive landslide-damming event in the Jishixia Gorge, on the upper Yellow River, NE Tibetan Plateau, The Holocene 25(5):745–757, 2015; researchgate.net. Return to text.
  11. Walker, T., Dinosaur herd buried in Noah’s Flood in Inner Mongolia, China, J. Creation 23(2):14–16, 2009. Return to text.
  12. Li-Da Xing, Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki, Martin G. Lockley, Jian-Ping Zhang, Xiong-Fei Cai, W. Scott Persons IV, Yong Ye, Asianopodus-type footprints from the Hekou Group of Honggu District, Lanzhou City, Gansu, China and the “heel” of large theropod tracks, Palaeoworld 23:304–313, 2014; sciencedirect.com. Return to text.
  13. Walker, T., The Great Artesian Basin, Australia, J. Creation 10(3):379–390, 1996. Return to text.
  14. The research team estimated the peak discharge rate at 0.4 million cubic metres per second, which would have drained the impounded water in less than a day (if that rate had been maintained, which of course it was not). Return to text.
  15. Batten, D., Catchpoole, D., Sarfati, J., and Wieland, C., The Creation Answers Book, Creation Book Publishers, p. 70, 2012; https://dl0.creation.com/articles/p010/c01077/chapter4.pdf Return to text.
  16. Walker, T., A preliminary age calibration for the post-glacial-maximum period, J. Creation 29(1):6–8, 2015. Return to text.
  17. Hansen, P., Real history: the timeline of the Bible, Creation 27(4):28–29, 2005. Return to text.

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