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For more than four thousand years, on the Loess Plateau in northern China, people have been residing in caves known as yaodong, which is Chinese for “house cave”. Some of these cave dwellings are carved out of the hillside, while others are dug vertically down to form a sunken courtyard from which rooms are excavated horizontally. The latter is the most unusual of which few equals exist in this world. The pit houses of Matmata in Tunisia come the closest.

The Loess Plateau, located around the Wei River valley in the provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi, was enormously important to Chinese history as it formed one of the earliest cradle of Chinese civilization. The plateau was formed by the deposition of very fine particles of soil blown in by wind storms over millions of years. As a result, the soil here is very fine and loamy, and is highly fertile, easy to farm and dig, making cave dwelling a reasonable option.

yaodong

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