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Unwanted epoch

Words by Amy Whitchurch
11 November 2021

Dear Editors

The Neogene Period is subdivided into the epochs: Holocene (“completely recent”), duration 0.01 million years; Pleistocene (“most recent”), 2.57 million years; Pliocene (“more recent”), 2.75 million years; Miocene (“not very recent”) 17.70 million years.

The main epochs lasted a few million years, and the Holocene has, by comparison, only just begun. The start of the Holocene roughly corresponds with the beginning of humankind’s modification of Earth (during the Mesolithic) by agriculture, forest clearing, hunting, and so on.

The new term, Anthropocene, focuses on the most recent progression of human-induced environmental change, such as by plastics, or even climate change. These problems are relatively transient, and will not be issues within Historical (hundreds of years), let alone Geological (millions of years), time scales.

The creation of a new epoch for such a short-lived episode, relegating the Holocene to “bit-player”, is, in my opinion, somewhat unnecessary and “anthropocentric”.

Peter Owen, MA FGS, graduated in Geology (1967) and worked as a geophysicist, until in 2004