But we now have the first compelling evidence that the flood did actually happen at the time and place chronicled in the legend.
In the Jishi Gorge, along the Yellow river, his team discovered rocks and sedimentary formations that could only have existed as a result of a cataclysmic flood.
That is the surprising conclusion of work done in one desert in China.
If the findings are confirmed in other deserts around the world, it could present a way of taking carbon out of the atmosphere.
Legend has it that a great flood engulfed China 4000 years ago.
Lasting for more than 20 years, it was finally tamed by the heroic efforts of Emperor Yu, whose Xia dynasty marked the birth of Chinese civilisation and its transition into the Bronze Age.
By guiding evolution along, scientists have created a protein that can bond carbon to silicon.
This innovation could transform how we make a broad array of products, from drugs to LED lights, semiconductors and computer screens.
That means manufacturers must turn to artificial methods to make compounds combining the two, which are called organosilicons and feature in materials including adhesives and silicone coatings.This released a huge volume of water, estimated at between 12 and 17 cubic kilometres, two to three times as much as contained by Loch Ness in Scotland.The floods engulfed Lajia, the archaeological site 25 kilometres downstream where the bodies of the three children killed by the earthquake months earlier lay buried, and where the world’s oldest noodles were found.They then repeated the process with water that flows into Tarim Basin from glaciers, and with water that is used to irrigate local farms, which comes from a nearby river.Using that information, they could draw a timeline showing how much carbon got into the basin and at what time.