All things considered, it will only take a few tens of thousands of years at most before almost every trace of our present dominance has vanished completely. Alien visitors coming to Earth 100,000 years hence will find no obvious signs that an advanced civilization ever lived here.
Yet if the aliens had good enough scientific tools they could still find a few hints of our presence. For a start, the fossil record would show a mass extinction centered on the present day, including the sudden disappearance of large mammals across North America at the end of the last ice age. A little digging might also turn up intriguing signs of a long-lost intelligent civilization, such as dense concentrations of skeletons of a large bipedal ape, clearly deliberately buried, some with gold teeth or grave goods such as jewelry.
But these will be flimsy souvenirs, almost pathetic reminders of a civilization that once thought itself the pinnacle of achievement. Within a few million years, erosion and possibly another ice age or two will have obliterated most of even these faint traces. If another intelligent species ever evolves on the Earth - and that is by no means certain, given how long life flourished before we came along - it may well have no inkling that we were ever here save for a few peculiar fossils and ossified relics. The humbling - and perversely comforting - reality is that the Earth will forget us remarkably quickly.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
New Scientist: Imagine Earth without people
A fascinating article in New Scientist that talks about what would happen if people disappeared from Earth tomorrow: