Last month I read an article published in the Guardian by academic and writer Robert Macfarlane. The article entitled “What have we done?” conveys the message of the frightening and serious impact that humans have on the planet and how this legacy will remain for millennia. The Anthropocene Age is emerging as the name for this new period of geological time where human activity has influenced the climate, the environment and the ecology of the planet. Dutch, nobel prize winning, atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen created the word in 1999. Within the next few months a report by stratigraphers (those whose specialism lies in dividing deep time into aeons, eras, periods,epochs and stages) will disclose their recommendation on whether the Antropocene should be formalised as an epoch. In 2000 Crutzer and scientist Eugene Stoermer in The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) (a research programme that studies the phenomenon of global change) Newsletter 41 wrote:
” To assign a more specific date to the onset of the “anthropocene” seems somewhat arbitrary, but we propose the latter part of the 18th century, although we are aware that alternative proposals can be made (some may even want to include the entire holocene). However, we choose this date because, during the past two centuries, the global effects of human activities have become clearly noticeable. This is the period when data retrieved from glacial ice cores show the beginning of a growth in the atmospheric concentrations of several “greenhouse gases”, in particular CO2 and CH4. Such a starting date also coincides with James Watt’s invention of the steam engine in 1784.”
It also coincides with the production and dispensing of metal, concrete and plastic. Among the archaeology of the future plastic will survive as a souvenir of the Anthropocene.
Yesterday I found plastic a plenty in the Coupar burn in Coupar Angus, Perth & Kinross. I am organising an ‘archaeological investigation’ into the burn for the final part of my Masters study in Art, Society and Publics at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee University. This artist led community engagement project will be supported by Strathmore Arts Festival (START) and aims to capture the distinctiveness and identity of the town and its people. Working with a group of young volunteers, we will be collecting, cleaning and identifying the extraordinary variety of wreckage and remains beneath the water of the Coupar burn. As you can see I have had a quick probe in the burn to see what’s there and without going very far and skimming only the surface of the silt at the bottom, I found, children’s toys, bottles from various eras, spoons, bowls, cups and a mobile phone. The collection resembles a strange cabinet of curiosities!
The first part of the investigation will take place on the weekend of 21st/22nd May where members of the public can come along and see what has been unearthed in our ‘field tent’ which will be erected in the square at Coupar Angus from 10am until 3pm on both the Saturday and Sunday.
The ‘artefacts’ will go on display at the end of July in a temporary pop up museum in the town. They will also form part of my final year exhibition at the University. I am hoping that these Museums of the ‘Anthropocene Age’ will give people an insight into the history and character of Coupar Angus and the relationship between local people and the burn. Follow my blog for more information and updates.