Deep future: What will our descendants know about us?
By Bob Holmes Read more: “100,000 AD: Living in the deep future“ WHEN humans in the far future are piecing together a picture of the primitive civilisation of 2012, archaeology will surely be the best way to go about it. After all, the best libraries, archives and museums can be undone by a single fire, amply illustrated by the fate of the library of Alexandria (see “Where will we live?“). So what will archaeologists working 100,000 years from now discover about us? Only the luckiest of artefacts will avoid being crushed, scattered, recycled or decomposed. You, personally, will almost certainly leave nothing behind that survives that long. To get a sense of why, just point time’s arrow the same distance in the opposite direction. Around 100,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans were just emerging from Africa to populate the world. Most of what we know about them is guesswork, because the only clues that remain are sharp stone tools and a handful of fossils. You are especially unlikely to leave your bones behind. Fossilisation is an exceedingly rare event, especially for terrestrial animals like us – though with 7 billion people on the planet, at least a few of us will no doubt achieve lasting fame. Luckiest – and rarest – will be the “instant fossils”. These form when people or animals die in calcium-rich seasonal ponds and wetlands, or in caves. In both situations, bones can mineralise quickly enough for fossilisation to win the race against decomposition, says Kay Behrensmeyer,