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Thread: How was geological time named?

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    in the modern era, the International Commission on Stratigraphy is the closest thing you have to an "official" body for accepting new definitions of the global geochronology. I understand they are set to vote on the controversial definition of an Anthropocene Epoch later this year, unless pandemic restrictions impede their convention. The working group they assigned to the issue has provisionally approved the designation, so it seems likely the larger group will as well. It is quite a common topic of discussion with my extended family when we all get together, as it is an uncommon blend of the academic fields we are variously engaged in (two geologists, an anthropologist, a sociologist, and a whole bunch of teachers walk into a bar...).

    If we really wanted to start a ruckus on this forum, we could bring up the very controversial work "A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None", a social philosophy treatise that can best be described as geology seen through the lens of critical race theory...
    "Banish me from Eden when you will, but first let me eat of the tree of knowledge."

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Anthropocene - seems like an issue that I'd prefer to avoid. A good part of it is how to mark out its beginning.

    For nearly all of our species' history, our ancestors lived much like their predecessor species, hunting and gathering, or more collectively, foraging.

    But a big change happened in the Holocene, when we invented agriculture in several places, independently of each other.

    The first farmers lived in the Middle Eastern Fertile Crescent at the beginning of the Holocene. Neolithic Revolution

    In eastern Asia, the two primary centers of crop-plant domestication were the lower Yellow River (northern) and the lower Yangtze River (southern).

    In Africa, the three primary centers of domestication were the Ethiopian highlands, the Sahel and West Africa.

    Primary centers of domestication elsewhere were New Guinea, Central America, and parts of South America.

    I'm saying "primary" because some places qualify as secondary ones, where more crop plants were domesticated by people who already had some.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    List of largest cities throughout history has the largest cities over time. However, its upper limit of 10,000 for the early Ukrainian ones is contrary to Settlements of the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture which states that they were much larger, like Maidanets at 30,000. The other two mentioned, Dobrovody and Talianki, were around 20,000. All for around 3,500 BCE.

    A millennium or so later, those big cities faded and Egyptian and Mesopotamian cities started growing impressively large. 50K - 100K in Mesopotamia, 30K in Egypt, and 40K in the Indus Valley, now Pakistan. By 1000 BCE, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China had cities as large as 100K.

    By 1 CE, Rome has 1 million people, and by 1000 CE, the champions were Baghdad and some Chinese cities at around 1M people.

    The first European champion city was London in the 19th cy. at 1 - 2 M people, the NYC beat London in the early 20th cy. with 8 M people, and then Tokyo beat NYC in 1965 with 15 M people.

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    Returning to technology, for copper use, 5000 BCE, for bronze use, 3300 BCE, and for iron use, 1200 BCE.

    But even then, agriculture-using societies were mostly agrarian for a long time, dominated by agriculture. But that changed in the Industrial Revolution, and an important part of it was the development of steam engines. Looking at them, the first one that was practical for industrial use was the Watt steam engine in 1776. Industrial Revolution identifies 1765 to 1820 in Europe and 1840 in the US. Part of it was the exploitation of coal for fuel, something that ended the First Age of Renewable Energy, something that encompassed all the history of humanity before then. So we might use 1776 as the date of the start of the Anthropocene.

    The Second Industrial Revolution was roughly from 1870 to 1914.
    Advancements in manufacturing and production technology enabled the widespread adoption of technological systems such as telegraph and railroad networks, gas and water supply, and sewage systems, which had earlier been concentrated to a few select cities. The enormous expansion of rail and telegraph lines after 1870 allowed unprecedented movement of people and ideas, which culminated in a new wave of globalization. In the same time period, new technological systems were introduced, most significantly electrical power and telephones. The Second Industrial Revolution continued into the 20th century with early factory electrification and the production line, and ended at the beginning of World War I.

    ...
    The Second Industrial Revolution was a period of rapid industrial development, primarily in the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States, but also in France, the Low Countries, Italy and Japan. It followed on from the First Industrial Revolution that began in Britain in the late 18th century that then spread throughout Western Europe. While the First Revolution was driven by limited use of steam engines, interchangeable parts and mass production, and was largely water-powered (especially in the United States), the Second was characterized by the build-out of railroads, large-scale iron and steel production, widespread use of machinery in manufacturing, greatly increased use of steam power, widespread use of the telegraph, use of petroleum and the beginning of electrification. It also was the period during which modern organizational methods for operating large scale businesses over vast areas came into use.

    ...
    Landes (2003) stresses the importance of new technologies, especially, the internal combustion engine, petroleum, new materials and substances, including alloys and chemicals, electricity and communication technologies (such as the telegraph, telephone and radio).
    Animal transport likely dates back to the domestication of large animals like bovines and donkeys and horses. They would first be used as beasts of burden, then used to pull carts and wagons. The first engine-driven vehicles were rail vehicles, and the first use of them in railroads was the Manchester - Liverpool Line in 1830. Railroads were developed rapidly in Britain, leading to the Railway Mania in the 1840's -- railroads were the dotcom companies of the day. Efforts to develop flat-road "steam cars" were not very successful, however, and the first successful engine-driven flat-road vehicle was Carl Benz's Patent-Motorwagen ("Patent Motorcar"). Like most later flat-road cars, it used a gasoline internal-combustion piston engine. The first successful diesel engine was introduced in 1898, and diesel engines gradually displaced steam engines in land and water transport.

    Water vehicles may be as old as humanity, but they were small boats for a long time. They were first powered by their users, using oars to row them, but some millennia ago in various places, some people invented sails, capturing wind energy to propel their boats. Thus, sailboats and sailing ships and rower-sailers like triremes and galleys. That changed in 1807, with Robert Fulton's first successful engine-driven ship.

    The first engine-driven ship to routinely do transoceanic voyages was the SS Royal William, starting in 1831. However, it was a motor-sailer, having sails along with its steam engine. It was only late in the 19th cy. that engine-driven ships were built without sails, and they soon were built in impressive sizes, much larger than even the largest sailing ships. Timeline of largest passenger ships List of large sailing vessels

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    The Third Industrial Revolution is the Digital Revolution and it is ongoing.

    All that was rather far afield, and I think that it shows the difficulty of pointing to some sharply-defined event as the beginning of the Anthropocene. Humanity's ecological impacts have been growing since the invention of agriculture, and growing without sharp dividing lines.

    So if I had my say, I would *not* define an official Anthropocene.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    On the other hand, Epochs aren't usually defined by a sharp, single event. Geological changes don't happen quickly in human terms, even when they are rapid events to a geologist, nor do most events affect the world strictly uniformly. The definition of periods, epochs, eras and so forth is more a shorthand for noticing common characteristics in the deposits from a period of time. It was always the habit of archaeologists to define shorthand anthropogenic "layers" "levels" or "archaeostrata", even though such strata likewise usually have diffuse edges and dating that varies by site.

    That said, I'm concerned that ethnocentrism may be an influential source for any date they set, and you're correct to indicate why. "Science has no country, but a scientist has a country..."[1]. One of my students who recently graduated is now pursuing a dissertation study on the way geological periods and and other terminology are used in various industry-building projects in the global South, and she is not alone these days in wondering about the uncomfortable frontiers between geology and socioeconomic or political processes.
    "Banish me from Eden when you will, but first let me eat of the tree of knowledge."

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    The Third Industrial Revolution is the Digital Revolution and it is ongoing.

    All that was rather far afield, and I think that it shows the difficulty of pointing to some sharply-defined event as the beginning of the Anthropocene. Humanity's ecological impacts have been growing since the invention of agriculture, and growing without sharp dividing lines.

    So if I had my say, I would *not* define an official Anthropocene.
    Fourth:

    The four industrial revolutions are coal, gas, electronics and nuclear, and the internet and renewable energy. Beginning from 1765 through the present day, we've seen an amazing evolution.

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