To understand the onset of human civilization evolution recorded in the marine environment, a 6000-year record of black carbon (BC), including char and soot, was examined in a sediment core from the central South Yellow Sea. The results showed that the colder and drier climate dominated the variation in fire activity in northern China after mid-Holocene via decreased precipitation and vegetation cover. The char released from the fire activity, can barely retrieve traces preserved in the marine sediments during the civilization evolution in China since ~1 ka BP. Fortunately, the soot-BC signal demonstrated that anthropogenic forces have overwhelmed the natural causes of soot emission since ~4 ka BP (Bronze Age) in northern China. The variation in soot closely matched periods when there was large-scale use of coal or charcoal after ~2 ka BP and when indigenous coking technology was promoted after ~1.3 ka BP, and times with low soot abundance coincided with periods of social unrest. This work provides evidence that the soot signal could be a robust tracer for tracking the civilization evolution, and the ancient Chinese civilization left remarkable soot signals in the marine environment since the Bronze Age.