Humans and Domestic Animals Will Dominate Anthropocene-Era Fossil Record, Paleontologists Say

Friday, December 20, 2019

Anthropocene-era Earth.

The terrestrial fossil record of the current geological epoch, the Anthropocene, will be unique in Earth history and will be dominated by humans, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, cats and other domestic mammals, according to a duo of U.S. paleontologists.

“The fossil record of mammals will provide a clear signal of the Anthropocene,” said University of Illinois at Chicago’s Professor Roy Plotnick and Missouri Western State University’s Dr. Karen Koy.

“The number of humans and their animals greatly exceeds that of wild animals,” they added.

“As an example, in the state of Michigan alone, humans and their animals compose about 96% of the total mass of animals. There are as many chickens as people in the state, and the same should be true in many places in the United States and the world.”

The chance of a wild animal becoming part of the Anthropocene-era fossil record has become very small, according to the scientists.

Instead, the future mammal record will be mostly cows, pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, etc., and people themselves.

“Hunting and butchering produce distinctive bone fragments and assemblages,” they said.

“Use of large agricultural equipment and increased domestic animal density due to intensive animal farming likely increases the rate of and changes the kind of damage to bones.”

“Fossil mammals occur in caves, ancient lakebeds and river channels, and are usually only teeth and isolated bones,” Professor Plotnick added.

“Animals that die on farms or in mass deaths due to disease often end up as complete corpses in trenches or landfills, far from water.”

Consequently, the terrestrial mammalian fossil record of the modern era will be unique in the Earth’s history and unmistakable to paleontologists of the distant future.

“In the far future, the fossil record of today will have a huge number of complete hominid skeletons, all lined up in rows,” Professor Plotnick said.

The team’s paper will be published in the March 2020 issue of the journal Anthropocene.


Roy E. Plotnick & Karen A.Koy. 2020. The Anthropocene fossil record of terrestrial mammals. Anthropocene 29: 100233; doi: 10.1016/j.ancene.2019.100233