“What the fuck is the Meghalayan?” asked Ben van der Pluijm, a geologist.
Whatever the Meghalayan is, we live in it now.
Earlier this week, the International Commission on Stratigraphy announced that the current stretch of geological time, the Holocene Epoch, would be split into three subdivisions.
This is particularly noteworthy to the human species, as we have been living in the Holocene for the last 12,000 years. After this announcement, we still live in that epoch, but we also live in the youngest of these new subdivisions: the Meghalayan Age.
This new slice of time started roughly 4,250 years ago and extends to the present. In other words, we have been living in the Meghalayan for quite a long time, even if it didn’t have a formal name.
For decades, this has been the kind of technical declaration that even most geologists could safely ignore.
But lately, the study of geological timescales has attracted far more public attention—and scholarly f-bombs. Stratigraphy, the effort to name and describe rock layers, has become the site of a proxy battle over climate change, environmental change, and how deeply the natural sciences should integrate with history and politics.
The International Commission on Stratigraphy, or ICS, is the global governing body that formally names geological eras, associating each rock layer with a specific stretch of time. For instance, the ICS formally named and identified the Jurassic, to the immense benefit of paleontologists and fictional theme-park developers everywhere.