Humans have now entered the Anthropocene, Earth’s newest geological epoch that began the moment plutonium debris from nuclear weapons began blanketing the globe.
This atomic marker is just one of many. Lest we forget that we have the power to physically change the make-up of the planet itself, whether we mean to or not. It’s long been known that new geological formations, like mixtures of plastic and natural rock, are appearing as a result of human activity, but a new review points out that we’ve also crafted hundreds of man-made minerals too.
As reported by the journal American Mineralogist, scientists have agreed that, from ancient crafting to modern mining practices, our actions have resulted in the birth of at least 208 minerals.
The majority were formed accidentally during mining activities, particularly those involving fluid injection, radioactive material seepage, or combustion. Some were found growing naturally on ancient lead, tin, and bronze artifacts, and a handful were discovered at prehistoric sites used for sacrificial burning.
Most of Earth’s minerals came about during the Great Oxygenation Event that took place around 2.2 billion years ago, when microbial life used photosynthesis to saturate the atmosphere with oxygen.
The international team of authors behind this study, including those from the Universities of Arizona and Maine, conclude that humanity has done more to diversify this mineral diversification than any other event since the Great Oxygenation Event.
The International Mineral Association (IMA) currently lists 5,225 official minerals, including these new ones, which means humanity is responsible for 4% of all mineral types found on Earth.
Washington’s Carnegie Institution for Science, said in a statement. “To imagine 250 years relative to 2 billion years, that’s the difference between the blink of an eye (one-third of a second) and one month.”