It is generally accepted in the scientific community that we have entered a new epoch called the Anthropocene. An epoch is a period of time that is defined by certain notable environmental characteristics – what defines the Anthropocene is human activity. It has been clear that humans have an undeniable effect on the environment and have been the dominant driving force of change for some time. However, the true beginning of notable human influence and thus, the start of the Anthropocene, is unclear and historically has sparked much debate.

Some believe that human change began around 50,000 years ago by aggressive hunting of megafauna species like mammoths. This activity shifted the natural hierarchy of species and impacted the environment. Others argue that agricultural practice that began later – around 7,000 years ago – marked the beginning of human activity. They believe that when we began shaping the environment to fulfill our needs, our epoch began. Still others believe that it wasn’t until the industrial revolution when true measurements of human activity like carbon dioxide level increases show the beginning of the Anthropocene.

In the new open access journal Elementa, Erle Ellis, a faculty member at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, proposes a global approach to investigating the true origins of the Anthropocene. Ellis hopes to use an interdisciplinary approach including both ecological and archeological methods. “This is great scientific work that can be done and needs to be done,” Ellis argues. “It will help us define the role of humans in shaping the Anthropocene.”

Ellis et al.

The future of this project is unclear – it has not yet been funded, but the authors are hopeful that the worth of the project will be noted by the scientific community. It would be able to provide a baseline for our environment and allow true measurements of human impact on the Earth to be made with more confidence.

Source: Source: Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Haywood, A., & Ellis, M. (2011). The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time?. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 369(1938), 835-841.

The Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, New York, is pleased to sponsor Paleontology content for This View of Life. Founded in 1932, PRI has outstanding programs in research, collections, and publications, and is a national leader in development of informal Earth science education resources for educators and the general public.


Published On: January 29, 2014

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