The Asian-Australian monsoon is an important component of the Earth's climate system that influences the societal and economic activity of roughly half the world's population. The past strength of the rain-bearing East Asian summer monsoon can be reconstructed with archives such as cave deposits, but the winter monsoon has no such signature in the hydrological cycle and has thus proved difficult to reconstruct. Here we present high-resolution records of the magnetic properties and the titanium content of the sediments of Lake Huguang Maar in coastal southeast China over the past 16,000 years, which we use as proxies for the strength of the winter monsoon winds. We find evidence for stronger winter monsoon winds before the Bølling-Allerød warming, during the Younger Dryas episode and during the middle and late Holocene, when cave stalagmites suggest weaker summer monsoons. We conclude that this anticorrelation is best explained by migrations in the intertropical convergence zone. Similar migrations of the intertropical convergence zone have been observed in Central America for the period ad 700 to 900 (refs 4-6), suggesting global climatic changes at that time. From the coincidence in timing, we suggest that these migrations in the tropical rain belt could have contributed to the declines of both the Tang dynasty in China and the Classic Maya in Central America.
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