History Stories

The newly named geologic chapter in Earth’s history has only been happening for 4,200 years.

Welcome to the new age—you’ve been living in it this whole time. Geologists have decided to classify the past 4,200 years as the Meghalayan Age, the latest distinct geologic stage in the 4.6 billion-year history of the Earth.

There are about 100 different “ages” or “stages” that geologists use to mark significant shifts on our planet. Our Meghalayan Age began with a mega-drought, the effects of which lasted for two centuries. It disrupted the ancient river valley civilizations in Mesopotamia and the modern-day countries of Egypt, India and China.

In announcing the Meghalayan Age, geologists have also introduced two other age classifications: the Greenlandian and the Northgrippian. Together, these three stages stretch across the Holocene Epoch, which is the “epoch” or “series” we’ve been living in for the past 11,700 years.

Our current epoch and its first stage, the Greenlandian Age, began when the last ice age ended and the world began to warm up. After that, an abrupt global cooling brought on the Northgrippian Age.

These new stages come from the International Commission on Stratigraphy, or ICS, and they’ve created a bit of controversy in the scientific community. Geologists first proposed the these divisions for our current epoch six years ago in a scholarly paper. Some scientists have accused the ICS of adopting the ages too quickly, without having enough discussion about them.

New Meghalayan Age

A portion of the Indian stalagmite, that was sectioned and analyzed layer by layer, containing the layers chosen to define the beginning of the Late Holocene Meghalayan Age, 4200 years ago. (Credit: International Commission on Stratigraphy)

“After the original paper and going through various committees, they’ve suddenly announced [the Meghalayan] and stuck it on the diagram,” said Mark Maslin, a professor of geography at University College London, according to the BBC. “It’s official, we’re in a new age; who knew?”

Maslin is part of a group of scholars who are interested in a geologic classification that corresponds to human influence on Earth. This classification is tentatively known as “Anthropocene.”

Expressing his disappointment with the new ICS stages, he told the BBC: “We have lots of new definitions that perhaps now contradict the Anthropocene Working Group and go against what most scientists perceive to be the most important change on Earth in the last 10,000 years.”

Scientists have also questioned whether the changes denoted by the Greenlandian, Northgrippian and Meghalayan Ages were truly global, and therefore appropriate points to mark geologic time.

It’s possible that the ICS will adjust these stages or add new subdivisions to them in the future. For now though, we’re living in a new age.

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