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Welcome to the Anthropocene

Living in the age of humans.

By Nathaniel ScharpingDecember 12, 2016 6:00 AM
Anton Balazh/Shutterstock


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Humanity has etched its existence into the rock layers beneath our feet. And now, scientists look to Earth’s bedrock and see enough evidence to officially usher us into the Anthropocene — a time period sometimes defined as the “human epoch.”

The term Anthropocene first gained popularity in 2000, but it wasn’t formally recognized as a part of the geologic timescale. This year, members of the Anthropocene Working Group, a subset of the International Union of Geological Sciences (the body that oversees the geologic timescale), sought to change that. They recommended that we officially mark the end of the Holocene, the current epoch, and enter the Anthropocene.

If the larger body ratifies their proposal, we will be living in the age of humans. Next, the researchers need to find a “golden spike,” a unique boundary point in the rock strata that signifies the epoch’s beginning.

That golden spike will likely come from radioactive particles spread around the globe by atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s, starting off our geologic reign with a bang.

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