When Did the Anthropocene Epoch Begin?

The Smithosonian's Museum of Natural History is mounting a massive exhibition exploring the "Anthropocene" era. It will remain on view until 2019. During the intervening years, the debate that is currently being conducted by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), the international regarding its official inception may be settled.

Unlike the era, the origin of the debate can be traced back to the 1970s when Paul Crutzen, the atmospheric chemist, discovered a verifiable evidence that humanity had become so dominant on the globe, it was actually influencing planetary conditions. Crutzen linked the increase in human activities to the shrinking of the ozone layer.

As Richard Monastersky reports, as evidence has mounted, there is growing pressure to proclaim the Anthropocene as the official name for the current era, to follow the Holocene and the Pleistocene. But dates for its inception have not gained consensus. Indeed, they span 5,000 years!




In their ritualized performances, the artists Red Earth evoke the conditions that prevailed during the Neolithic period, the earliest of the proposed dates. However, it seems the geologists chose this date because it initiated many of the technologies and procedures that are currently associated with dangerous environmental disruptions. The artists, in contrast, chose this date because it was a time of attunement between humans and the geological, astronomical, and biological forces of the Earth.

Here are the dates that are currently being considered:

– 3,000 BC at the beginning of agriculture and livestock cultivation causing leachings of nutrients from fertilizers and acidifying the oceans.

– 1,000 BC because of the surge of mining.

– Between 1570 and 1620 there was a noticeable drop in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, as recorded in ice cores. It was traced to the extermination of 50 million indigenous people in the Americas. Their abandoned agricultural fields reverted to forests, reducing CO2.

– Late 18th century when the Industrial Revolution began, escalating the amount of methan and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

1945 – 1963 when 500 above-ground nuclear blasts announced the Atomic Age.
 and when “The Great Acceleration” occurred, as evidenced by the surge inplastics, concrete, aluminum, artificial ferilizers, concrete, and leaded petrol.

The decision that seems favored is a precise date, July 16, 1945, the day of the first atomic blast.