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Journal of Archaeological Research

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 369–396 | Cite as

Earth Systems, Human Agency, and the Anthropocene: Planet Earth in the Human Age

  • Todd J. Braje
Article

Abstract

A proposal to designate a new geological epoch of our own making—the Anthropocene—is being considered by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), part of the International Union of Geological Sciences. Based on a set of formal criteria, there is growing consensus for a Holocene–Anthropocene boundary set at some point in the last 200 years. A number of scientists have questioned the utility of such a designation because it overlooks the millennia-long history of human impacts on the planet and fails to focus on the causes of human domination of the Earth in favor of the effects. I review these debates and synthesize a variety of proposals for an Anthropocene beginning 10,000 years ago to as little as 50. I then review a number of parallel debates focused less on the geosciences and more on the political, social, and institutional implications of the Anthropocene. I demonstrate how and why formal ICS criteria for the designation of geological time units may be inadequate for effectively meeting the underlying rationale for designating a human-induced geological epoch and the role it is currently and, potentially, will continue to play in the court of public opinion.

Keywords

Human–environmental impacts Planetary boundaries Global change Archaeology 

Notes

Acknowledgments

San Diego State University has generously supported this research with a critical thinking grant. A number of people have been instrumental in helping shape my thinking about archaeological perspectives on the Anthropocene. Insightful feedback and comments from Jon Erlandson, Torben Rick, and Bruce Smith, along with six anonymous reviewers, have been especially helpful. Thanks to Journal of Archaeological Research co-editors Gary Feinman and Douglas Price for inviting me to write this manuscript and to the editorial staff for their help in the review and production process.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA

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