Leicester geologist contributes to major project examining the technosphere

Professor Jan Zalasiewicz from our Department of Geology is working with artist Anne-Sophie Milon on a new project examining the ‘technosphere’ and what impact it will leave behind on the planet’s fossil record.

The project explores how the technosphere – accounting for the millions of tons of man-made products produced every year and being absorbed into strata - will be buried deep as any other conglomeration of earthly materials, forming timelines of past eras for future generations to uncover.

The major research project, which has been organised at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), speculates about the puzzle of technofossils underground that far-future archaeologists will find when digging up the landfills created during The Anthropocene as a result of human impact on the planet.

Professor Zalasiewicz said: “The far-future paleontologists who will (we will assume) reconstruct, from these infinitely variable petrified remnants, the technosphere built by humans, will move, inch by inch, across these fossilized landfills, as not only the objects but also their aspects change their nature, centimetre by centimetre. A square meter might include such complexity and variety as to provide work for a lifetime of such study.

“One can almost envy our distant imagined successors the puzzles that will consume them, the hypotheses they will generate, the care and patience they will need to extricate the most beautifully preserved fragments from the unforgiving rock.”

Anne-Sophie Milon added: “My geological improvisations are designed to follow the long dizzying journey of the strata. We are trying to depict one of the many unfathomable puzzles of the distant future.”

The HKW Technosphere programme follows a successful programme it organised on The Anthropocene that ran in 2013 and also featured Professor Zalasiewicz.

The Technosphere project is a multi-year research platform that include publications, workshops, exhibitions, and conferences.

In addition there is also an educational platform called the Anthropocene curriculum which operates as a knowledge production format and has been made ‘live’ in the form of two interdisciplinary campuses over the years with another version coming in 2019.

Earlier this year Professor Zalasiewicz and Anne-Sophie Milon collaborated on the exhibition, Reset Modernity!, at the ZKM arts and media centre in Karlsruhe, asking what the office of a palaeontologist would look like a 100 million years from now.