Dating the Anthropocene: Towards an empirical global history of human transformation of the terrestrial biosphere

Human use of land is a major cause of the global environmental changes that define the Anthropocene. Archaeological and paleoecological evidence confirm that human populations and their use of land transformed ecosystems at sites around the world by the late Pleistocene and historical models indicate this transformation may have reached globally significant levels more than 3000 years ago.

Yet these data in themselves remain insufficient to conclusively date the emergence of land use as a global force transforming the biosphere, with plausible dates ranging from the late Pleistocene to AD 1800. Conclusive empirical dating of human transformation of the terrestrial biosphere will require unprecedented levels of investment in sustained interdisciplinary collaboration and the development of a geospatial cyberinfrastructure to collate and integrate the field observations of archaeologists, paleoecologists, paleoenvironmental scientists, environmental historians, geoscientists, geographers and other human and environmental scientists globally from the Pleistocene to the present. Existing field observations may yet prove insufficient in terms of their spatial and temporal coverage, but by assessing these observations within a spatially explicit statistically robust global framework, major observational gaps can be identified, stimulating data gathering in underrepresented regions and time periods. Like the Anthropocene itself, building scientific understanding of the human role in shaping the biosphere requires both sustained effort and leveraging the most powerful social systems and technologies ever developed on this planet.
Dating the Anthropocene: Towards an empirical global history of human transformation of the terrestrial biosphere. Ellis, E. C., Fuller, D. Q., Kaplan, J. O., & Lutters, W. G. 2013. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, 1: 000018

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