We Are in a New Phase in Earth's History, It’s Defined as 'Meghalayan Age'
Update to the International Chronostratigraphic Chart will reflect the inclusion of the Meghalayan Age. (Photo: epeakin)

Geologists have classified the last 4,200 years as being a distinct Earth age and are calling it a new chapter -- the "Meghalayan Age" -- the onset of which was marked by a mega-drought that crushed a number of civilizations worldwide.

Sediments collected by an international team of researchers including those from a stalagmite from a cave in Meghalaya helped define this smallest climatic event in Earth's history. Agricultural-based societies that developed in several regions after the end of the last Ice Age were impacted severely by a 200-year drought, a climatic event that resulted in the collapse of civilisations and human migrations in Egypt, Greece, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Yangtze River Valley.

Earth's existence of 4.6-billion-year is divided into slices of time. Each slice corresponded to significant happenings -- such as the break-up of continents, dramatic shifts in climate, and even the emergence of particular types of animals and plant life.

The current age in which we live is called the Holocene Epoch, which reflects everything that has happened over the past 11,700 years -- since a dramatic warming kicked us out of the last ice age, the BBC reported.

But the Holocene itself can be subdivided.

The Middle Holocene Northgrippian Age and the Early Holocene Greenlandian Age with beginnings defined at climatic events that happened about 8,300 years and 11,700 years ago respectively were also approved. The Late Holocene Meghalayan Age was ratified as the most recent unit of the Geologic Time Scale after many years of research. The three ages comprise the Holocene Epoch, which represents the time since the end of the last Ice Age.

The International Commission on Stratigraphy, which is responsible for standardising the Geologic Time Scale, approved the definition of the beginning of the youngest unit of the Geologic Time Scale based on the timing of this event.

The Commission then forwarded these proposals to its parent body, the IUGS, for consideration, and the executive committee of IUGS voted unanimously to ratify them.

Units of the Geologic Time Scale are based on sedimentary strata that have accumulated over time and contain within them sediment types, fossils and chemical isotopes that record the passage of time as well as the physical and biological events that produced them.

The three new ages of the Holocene Epoch are represented by a wealth of sediment that accumulated worldwide on the sea floor, on lake bottoms, as glacial ice, and as calcite layers in stalactites and stalagmites.

Those intervals of sedimentary strata on which the ages are based are referred to as stages, and together the strata of three new stages comprise the Holocene Series.

The lower boundary of the Greenlandian and Northgripppian stages are defined at specific levels in Greenland ice cores. The lower boundary of the Meghalayan Stage is defined at a specific level in a stalagmite from a cave in northeast India.

The ice cores and the stalagmite are now identified as international geostandards, and have been placed in protected archives accessible for further study. The decision to define these new stages of the Holocene Series and thus the three new corresponding ages of the Holocene Epoch allows for an update to the International Chronostratigraphic Chart, which depicts the timeline for the Earth's full geologic history. (With Agency inputs)