Next time you chow down on a chicken wing, pay special attention to where you discard the bones. You just might be telling future archaeologists—human or otherwise—about a very specific moment in time, a moment when human beings became so dominant over the planet that they began to create a new geological epoch. This new time period of vast human influence is known as the Anthropocene, and according to a cadre of experts called the Anthropocene Working Group, that epoch has already been under way for more than 60 years. On August 29, the AWG recommended to the International Geological Congress that geologists declare the 1950s the end of our current epoch, the Holocene, and the beginning of a new one, the Anthropocene. The Holocene began just 11,700 years ago, after the close of the last major ice age, while the previous epoch, the Pleistocene, lasted for nearly 1.8 million years.
But what is marking the Anthropocene? Some signals include plastic pollution and the soot produced by power plants, though the biggest may be the radioactive elements that were released around the globe due to mid-century nuclear testing—hence the 1950s delineation. Humans also appear to have set off a major extinction event, causing species to die out en masse across the globe, the sixth such extinction in Earth’s history.