[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

RE: mass extinctions and technology

G Paul wrote:
That anyone can imagine that the presence of civilization will not be readily
detectable 65 Myr from now boggles one mind.

It depends where one looks, with what technology, and with what preconceptions.

I doubt seriously that our civilization could have detected and accepted the evidence of a prior civilization circa 1960 unless we had been lucky enough to stumble upon the remains of a major urban center that had been buried reasonably intact. Even today, the actual urbanized area is a small fraction of the continental surface. I keep hearing that there are some periods of geologic time poorly represented in terrestrial sediments -- to keep on topic, some parts of the dinosaurian fossil record that are very poorly sampled. If some putative past civilization fell into one of those epochs, it would be hard to find today.

THe odds would be much better if the civilization left behind something to attract the attention of geologists and paleontologists -- e.g., caused a mass extinction. Neolithic humans appear to have wiped out most of the Pleistocene megafauna (or at least their appearance coincides with that extinction), so that's one marker future paleontologists could look for. A widespread technological civilization would have left trace markers behind, but detecting them would require technology comparable to what we used to detect the iridium enrichment at the KT boundary.

Perhaps ultimately we will come up with some technology that can survey the entire buried fossil record, which would tell us much more about what was really there.

This exercise also reminds us that we can miss entire chunks of the dinosaurian fauna until we happen to stumble upon the right fossil deposits, like Incisorsaurus. -- Jeff Hecht