It may have been more than a century after Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but some scientists are arguing that 1610 marks a "golden spike" in the geologic record that kickstarted what is being called the Anthropocene era, or "Age of Man," and that this spike is the direct result of Europeans' arrival in the Americas. It's the latest effort by geologists to pinpoint exactly when our current historical era began. We're still officially in the Holocene Epoch, reports the BBC, which started nearly 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, but the Anthropocene has been proposed as a new era humans set in motion far more recently.
Some say this era began as recently as 1964, the point at which the first nuclear tests were banned. Others date it back a century further to the Industrial Revolution. But in the journal Nature, a new proposal suggests that 1610 is the precise start date thanks to the major global impact of the European population on the Americas—from farming and trade to the spread of disease that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 million people, many of whom were farmers. When that farmland returned to its original vegetation, that growth "removed enough carbon from the atmosphere to see a pronounced dip in the global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration that can be seen in ice core records," one scientist said. The Anthropocene Working Group is weighing the evidence and says it will suggest its preferred Anthropocene start date sometime next year. (Scientists have been debating this start date for years.)