When people in the distant future, say 100 thousand years, will write the history of the primitive civilization of the beginning of the 21st century, the best way to reconstruct the lost culture will be archeology. The fate of the Alexandrian library has demonstrated what awaits our archives and museums…
What will archaeologists be able to say about us in 100 thousand years?
Only some artifacts would be likely to avoid total decomposition. Just like now, only a few stone tools and fossils tell us that the first modern humans left Africa 100 thousand years ago.
Our bones are most likely not to remain intact. Fossilization is an extremely rare phenomenon, especially in the world of land animals. But since we are already 7 billion, something will surely remain behind…
Even more rare phenomenon is the “instant fossils”.
“They are formed when animals (or humans) die in calcium-rich seasonal ponds, or in caves. In both cases, there is a chance that the bones are mineralized quickly and avoid the decomposition process”, says Anna Kay Behrensmeyer, a paleobiologist at the National Museum of Natural History (Washington DC, USA).
Our bodies buried in cemeteries would turn to dust in several centuries. The richest deposits of our bones are likely to be found in volcanic ash left by the Asian tsunamis, says Ms. Behrensmeyer. Some bodies may get mummified in peat bogs and alpine desert. But if conditions change, the remains are likely to disappear.
Houses and artifacts
The same fate awaits our homes and artifacts. Coastal cities are likely to be flooded, buildings would collapse. But the archaeologists of the future will be able to find traces of rectangular shape – a sure sign of the existence of a civilization.
“Nature does not create anything like that“, emphasizes Jan Zalasiewicz from Leicester University (UK).
The most massive collection of the products of human culture is our wonderful garbage… As a rule, filled landfills are sealed with a solid layer of clay, and the content is deprived of access to oxygen – the main enemy of conservation.
Under these conditions, even some organic materials would have good chances to avoid decomposition. However, in thousands of years, they are likely to gradually turn into something resembling peat, says Jean Bogner of the University of Illinois (USA).
Stone and other materials
A few materials will remain intact. First of all, stone, but we almost never use it. Maybe just a few monuments will avoid erosion. Ceramic tiles and coffee cups can last forever – just like the remains of the earliest human cultures.
Iron rusts quickly, but we have titanium, stainless steel, and gold. For example, the golden tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun has lain virtually unchanged for five thousand years.
“Nothing would happen if it laid another five thousand years“, – stressed Alexander Rose from The Long Now Foundation (USA).
The point is that we do not know what aspects of our civilization will be interesting to future generations. For example, today, we study the ancient people, keeping in mind Darwin’s theory which was absolutely unthinkable even two hundred years ago.
In 100 thousand years, the fate of our culture will probably look like polystyrene coffee cups.
They can not be decomposed and can survive for millions of years. But they will turn into lumps and bits of obscure shape, and the future archaeologists will break their heads trying to figure out why we needed these strange objects…
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