Historian angers group who proposed labeling late Holocene as Meghalayan Age

September 21, 2018 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org report
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Guy Middleton, a historian at the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Charles University in Prague, has angered members of the group who successfully pushed for the creation of a new unit of geological time called the Meghalayan Age. In his Perspective piece published in the journal Science, he claims that evidence of widespread collapse of civilizations following the onset of a mega-drought in 2200 BCE, is lacking.

Earlier this summer, the International Commission on Stratigraphy announced that a new category had been approved. The Meghalayan Age covers the time span from 2200 BCE up till the present. Prior to this summer, it had been generally referred to as the late Holocene period. The group chose the starting point of the age as approximately 4200 years ago because prior evidence has shown that was the beginning of a mega-drought.

Middleton does not dispute this claim, but focuses on other statements made by members of the group that proposed the change. In their presentation, they noted that the mega-drought resulted in the collapse of a number of civilizations—in Greece, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, the Yangtze River Valley and the Indus Valley. This last one was particularly significant because the new age was named for a state in what is now India—Meghalaya. Middleton claims that there is no real evidence of mass civilizations collapsing. He suggests that at most, there was restructuring of several societies due to the drought. He further suggests that because of this inaccuracy, it is inappropriate to use the date chosen as a meaningful threshold for a new geologic age. He adds that he believes that such errors crop up due to a lack of communication between archaeologists and historians—a problem that could be solved with more interdisciplinary collaborations.

Such statements have angered some of the people who proposed the labeling of the new age, according to Robinson Meyer, in a column for The Atlantic. He claims a squabble has arisen due to the piece Middleton published. He writes that some of the Meghalayan group have even gone so far as to question Middleton's credentials, calling him a "failed archeology Ph.D." Others have suggested that the claims by Middleton were poorly researched and are misleading.

Explore further: Anthropocene vs Meghalayan—why geologists are fighting over whether humans are a force of nature

More information: Guy D. Middleton. Bang or whimper?, Science (2018). DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8834

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11 comments

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nrauhauser
4.3 / 5 (3) Sep 21, 2018
Shades of Egyptologists in the early 20th century, ready to do battle over their honor.
aksdad
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 21, 2018
Middleton claims that there is no real evidence of mass civilizations collapsing. He suggests that at most, there was restructuring of several societies due to the drought.

Woe betide the poor mensch who points out that the data don't support the conclusions. Burn the heretic!
Iochroma
4 / 5 (4) Sep 21, 2018
What was wrong with Holocene?
Whydening Gyre
4.3 / 5 (6) Sep 21, 2018
I'm with Io.
Why would you create a geologic Earth age for the insignificant scattering of one particular species on this planet?
These "angered" guys need to ease up on whatever they are sniffing, drinking or eating...
They might as well call it "anthropocene"
rrwillsj
3 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2018
Considering the looming Matricide? The oncoming cataclysm of Humanity's best efforts to destroy the Earth's Biosphere? And, exterminate ourselves!

I vote we rename the Modern Period the Anthropophagus Era.
Zzzzzzzz
5 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2018
Choose division points that actually appear in the geologic record for geologic epochs.
rrwillsj
2 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2018
Okay Zz, I gotta ask... Why? Aside from the K2/Iridium Boundary? How many other such specific, easily recognizable breaks are there in known-to-date geological record?
That respected scientific experts are not willing to dispute?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2018
Why would you create a geologic Earth age for the insignificant scattering of one particular species on this planet?
Its like with lawmakers. If they're not making laws then the public doesnt think they're doing their jobs.

Academies have to be overturning what previous gens have overturned in order to make people think they're actually getting somewhere rather than just making a lot of mud.
xponen
1 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2018
Alien archaeologist, 1 million years in the future, will study the rock of the current era and conclude the humans are terraforming the planet and will call this era the "Anthropocene Epoch" and no mention of Meghalayan Age.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2018
Interesting criticism. I have not read the Atlantic piece, but some of the anger could be because members of the International Commission on Stratigraphy worked a decade on this - including field work to find a dating prototype - while the critic threw an article together. Also, they have not yet done "Formal publication of the justifications and definitions of each of the divisions" so criticism is premature. Balancing that, the critic simply notes that the ICS must be "prepared to admit" that some civilizations "coped with" a megadrought.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2018
As for why these standards as asked in comments here, it is explained on the ICS site.

"The International Commission on Stratigraphy is the largest and oldest constituent scientific body in the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). Its primary objective is to precisely define global units (systems, series, and stages) of the International Chronostratigraphic Chart that, in turn, are the basis for the units (periods, epochs, and age) of the International Geologic Time Scale; thus setting global standards for the fundamental scale for expressing the history of the Earth."

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