Varying Levels of the Dian Lakes and the Dian Lakes Culture


  • Terry Leslie Lustig University of Sydney
  • Li Kunsheng Yunnan University
  • Jiang Zhilong Yunnan Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics
  • Chen Guo Yunnan University



Historical records state that the Dian kingdom was based on thousands of square li of rich flat land around Dianchi Lake. However, through use of a digital elevation model of the area, it is found that this area was about 800 li2—substantially less. Even if the other major Dian Lakes—Fuxian, Xinyung and Qi Lu—are included, the area increases to only about 1,000 li2. In the process of checking the area stated in the historical records, some issues warranting further exploration have been brought to light: the possibility of a human role in the recurring floods of Dianchi Lake from the 13th c CE; the idea that the settlement site found near Wangjiadun village and tentatively assigned to the early Bronze Age, could be dated to at least 4,500 BP, well before; and that the Shizhaishan and Lijiashan elite cemeteries may have looked out over water to their east. The seemingly limited area of fertile land also suggests that other sources of wealth such as trade and minerals played a greater role, and that the population was relatively small. This calls into question the nature of the socio-political structure within the Dian lakes culture.

Author Biographies

Terry Leslie Lustig, University of Sydney

Research Associate, Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney

Li Kunsheng, Yunnan University

School of Humanities

Chen Guo, Yunnan University

School of Humanities