A Far-Future Paleontology: The Baffling Case of Brunaspis enigmatica


Paleontologists, for more than two centuries, have studied and debated the petrified remains of plants and animals that have evolved over the past three billion years on Earth. They have argued over the grand concepts that they reveal, such as biological evolution and climate change, and also the many specific questions thrown up by these relics: was such-and-such a shell, a mollusk, or an arthropod? Did this fossil fish live high up in the water, among the plankton, or grub in the mud on the sea floor?

These studies have for many paleontologists been a blessedly human-free zone, detached from the busy realities of our everyday lives. The science of paleontology, though, is simply one obscure part of a burgeoning and rapidly evolving technosphere that underpins our lives, and that is now evolving millions of new kinds of fossils—technofossils—far more rapidly than ever happened in biological evolution. Many of these objects will, quite certainly, become part of Earth’s future fossil record.

If such an endeavor as paleontology were ever to arise again, in a distant post-human future, how would its practitioners deal with these bizarre relics?

We provide a preview, on the following pages, of just one such enigma, and how it may be resolved (or not) by our puzzled disciplinary descendants.

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