Anthropocene: New dates proposed for the ‘Age of Man’

The Anthropocene – a new geological time period that marks the “Age of man” – began in 1610, a study suggests. Scientists believe that the arrival of Europeans in the Americas had an unprecedented impact on the planet, marking the dawn of this new epoch. The findings are published in the journal Nature. Others say that the industrial revolution or the first nuclear tests better signal the start of the Anthropocene. While some believe the exact date for a new epoch can only be determined with the benefit of thousands or even millions of years of hindsight. An international Anthropocene Working Group is currently reviewing the evidence and will announce its favoured start date next year.

Geologists carve up Earth’s history into chunks that reflect times of significant change on the planet, perhaps as a result of continental movement, a big asteroid strike, or a major shift in climate. We are still formally in the Holocene Epoch. It started more than 11,500 years ago as the last Ice Age came to an end.But now scientists say that humanity has dramatically altered the Earth again. To pinpoint the start of this new phase, geologists are looking for a clear signal, described as a “golden spike”, that will be captured in rocks, sediments or ice. Prof Mark Maslin, from University College London, a co-author of the paper, said: “We look for these golden spikes – a real point in time when you can show in a record when the whole Earth has changed. “If you look back through the entire, wonderful geological timescale, we have defined almost every boundary in that way. The study suggests that one such golden spike places the start of the Anthropocene in 1610.The researchers say the arrival of the Europeans in the Americas 100 years earlier was the start of a major global transformation. Via Anthropocene: New dates proposed for the ‘Age of Man’.

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