STRATI 2013 pp 919-923 | Cite as

The “Anthropocene” and “the Present is the Key to the Past”

  • K. M. CohenEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Springer Geology book series (SPRINGERGEOL)


Here, I share my thinking about the coming into existence of the “Anthropocene” as to-be-formalised chronostratigraphic terminology. I present and frame my preferred meaning for it, and my preferred slot for the interval: as an uppermost unit in the Holocene Series, following the late Holocene. The Anthropocene is more or less synonymous with “the present” and “the now” in modern earth science. It covers the time when observant scientists were around and from which we have more than geology alone on which to scientific records of Earth (the age of measurement). This happens to coincide with humans becoming a geological factor, mostly because humankind discovered what it could do with geology: change Earth. In that vein, I opt to link the base of the Anthropocene with the appearance in of Lyell’s catchphrase “The Present is the Key to the Past” in the literature, at AD 1830. Defining the exact beginning of the Anthropocene is an arbitrary matter and more or less the same as defining the Present. Linking the definition to Lyell’s key principle makes a point and has benefits.


Anthropocene GSSA Charles Lyell Industrial revolution Enlightenment Modern earth sciences 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physical GeographyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.TNO Geological Survey of the NetherlandsUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Departement of Applied Geology and GeophysicsDeltares Research InstituteUtrechtThe Netherlands

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