Drawing A Line In The Mud: Scientists Debate When 'Age Of Humans' Began

Humans have changed the Earth in such profound ways that scientists say we have entered a new geological period: the Anthropocene Epoch.

But when did the new epoch officially begin? And how, exactly, should it be defined? Those are the questions that geologists are pursuing with increasing urgency at sites around the world. Teams are studying 11 locations on five continents, looking for a place where rock, mud or ice perfectly capture the global impact of humans.

As is often the case in science, the teams are both collaborating and competing. They share information, but ultimately only one site will be crowned the "golden spike" location for the Anthropocene: the place on Earth where a line in the rock, mud or ice exemplifies the unique markers of the age of humans.

Kawa, the anthropologist, says officially defining the Anthropocene Epoch will create more questions than it answers for people who are grappling with how humans live on this planet. For example, what does it mean for the age of humans to be officially defined by some of humanity's most destructive acts?The Anthropocene is the work of men — some more than others. "We have to be careful not to lay responsibility at the feet of all humans broadly," Kawa says, "because some people and some human groups and some social institutions are more responsible for it."

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