Durham University researchers said a study of minerals suggests the Yangtze began to cut the Three Gorges area around 45 million years ago, making it much older than previously believed.
The Yangtze -- the third-longest river in the world -- cut the Three Gorges area that separates the Sichuan Basin in the west from the lowlands of central and eastern China to the east.
Historians said the area has particular historical, cultural and geomorphological significance, since without the transport pathway created by the Three Gorges, south-western China would have remained cut off from the rest of the country by the otherwise inaccessible mountains that surround the region.
The Yangtze study that also included scientists from China and Germany is reported in the journal Geology.
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