Soi Nhụ culture (16,000–5000 BC)
Located in Hạ Long and Bái Tử Long are archaeological sites such as Mê Cung and Thiên Long. There are remains from mounds of mountain shellfish (Cyclophorus), spring shellfish (Melania), some fresh water mollusc and some rudimentary labour tools. The main way of life of Soi Nhụ’s inhabitants included catching fish and shellfish, collecting fruits and digging for bulbs and roots. Their living environment was a coastal area unlike other Vietnamese cultures, for example, like those found in Hòa Bình and Bắc Sơn.
Cái Bèo culture (5000–3000 BC)
Located in Hạ Long and Cát Bà island, its inhabitants developed to the level of sea exploitation. Cái Bèo culture is a link between Soi Nhụ culture and Hạ Long culture.
History shows that Hạ Long Bay was the setting for local naval battles against Vietnam’s coastal neighbors. On three occasions, in the labyrinth of channels in Bạch Đằng Rivernear the islands, the Vietnamese army stopped the Chinese from landing. In 1288, General Trần Hưng Đạo stopped Mongol ships from sailing up the nearby Bạch Đằng River by placing steel-tipped wooden stakes at high tide, sinking the Mongol Kublai Khan’s fleet.
During the Vietnam War, many of the channels between the islands were heavily mined by the United States navy, some of which pose a threat to shipping to this day.
Geology and geomorphology
In 2000, the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has inscribed the Hạ Long Bay in the World Heritage List according to its outstanding examples representing major stages of the Earth’s history and its original limestone karstic geomorphologic features. The Hạ Long Bay and its adjacent areas consist of a part of the Sino-Vietnamese composite terrane having its development history from pre-Cambrian up to present day. During Phanerozoic, terrigenous, volcanogenic and cherty-carbonate sediments containing in abundance graptolites, brachiopods, fishes, corals, foraminiferas, radiolarias, bivalves and flora, separated one from another by 10 stratigraphic gaps, but the boundary between Devonian and Carboniferous has been considered as continuous. The limestone karstic geomorphology of the bay was developed since Miocene, especially the cone-shaped hills (fengcong), or isolated high limestone karst towers (fenglin) with many remnants of old phreatic caves, old karstic foot caves, marine notch caves form magnificent limestone karst landforms as unique on the world. The Quaternary geology was developed through 5 cycles with the intercalation of marine and continental environments. The present Hạ Long Bay, in fact, appeared after the Middle Holocene maximum transgression, leaving ultimate zone of lateral undercutting in the limestone cliffs bearing many shells of oysters, having the 14C age as 2280 to >40,000 y. BP. Geological resources are abundant: anthracite, lignite, oil shale, petroleum, phosphate, limestone and cement additives, kaolin, silica sand, dolomite, quartzite of exogenous origin, and antimony, mercury of hydrothermal origin. Besides, there still are surface water, groundwater and thermal mineral water on the shore of the Hạ Long – Bái Tử Long Bays and other environmental resources.
In terms of marine geology, this area is recorded as an especially coastal sedimentary environment. In the alkaline seawater environment, the chemical denudation process of calcium carbonate proceeds rapidly, creating wide, strangely shaped marine notches.
The bottom surface sediments are various from clay mud to sand, however, silty mud and clay mud are dominated in distribution. Especially, the carbonate materials originated from organisms make up from 60-65% sedimentary content. The surface sediments of coral reefs are mainly sand and pebbles of which the carbonate materials occupy for more than 90%. The intertidal zone sediments are various from clay mud to sand and gravel depending to distinguished sedimentary environments such as mangrove marshes, tidal flats, beaches etc. At the small beaches, but wonderfully beautiful, the sand sediments may be dominated quartz or carbonate materials.
The sediment layers of intertidal zone, the upper sea bed with a plain surface conserving ancient rivers, systems of caves and it’s sediments, traces of ancient marine action forming distinctive notches, beaches and marine terraces, mangrove swamps are important evidence of geological events and processes taking place during Quaternary.
History of tectonics
Hạ Long Bay has experienced at least 500 million years in various geological states of orogeny, marine transgression and marine regression. During the Ordovician and Silurianperiods (500-410 million years ago), Hạ Long Bay was deep sea. During the Carboniferous and Permian periods (340-250 million years ago), Hạ Long Bay was at shallow sea level.
The dominated uplift movement of neotectonic and recent tectonic influenced deeply on topography of this area, and the present landscape of sea-islands was formed around 7 or 8 thousand years ago by the sea invasion during Holocene transgression begun at about 17-18 thousand years ago. Particularly from the Holocene time, from about 11,000 years ago Cat Ba – Hạ Long area has much archaeological evidence connecting variations in sea levels with the development of ancient cultures such as the Soi Nhu and Ha Long cultures.