By Matthew Rudman
In July 2017, construction workers were digging the foundations for a new fire and police station in the town of Thornton, Colorado, when they uncovered something unexpected: the fossilised remains of a triceratops dating back 66m years. “A lot of times these will be ploughed up and they won’t be recognised,” the curator of a local natural history museum said. Humans have been manipulating the natural world since the dawn of civilisation, but the past 100 years has seen an exponential and uncontrolled increase in disruption and destruction of delicately balanced ecosystems and geologies previously undisturbed for millions of years. We are all-too familiar with the consequences: crumbling ice caps, bleached coral reefs and rising sea levels threatening to engulf our settlements with acidified water.
In the mid-20th century, hundreds of atmospheric nuclear weapons tests were conducted, coating the Earth in a thin layer of radioactive particles. Many scientists are proposing using this layer of toxic dust as the indelible signature of a new geological age, the Anthropocene, an era defined by the impact of humanity on the Earth’s ecology. Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky (b1955) has long been preoccupied with the troubled intersection of human industry and natural ecosystems, and his most recent output, The Human Signature, on show at the Flowers Gallery, London, is part of his recently launched Anthropocene project, which explores the various manifestations of human mark-making on our planet.
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