The thought of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures having proper names, working jobs to feed their families, and enjoying the trappings of technology is one that's fueled many a children's cartoon or fantasy story through the years. But with the proof of an intelligent civilization bound to get destroyed forever after millions of years, there might be an outside chance that humans were not the first intelligent, industrialized civilization in Earth's history. That's the gist of the so-called "Silurian Hypothesis," which was explored by a pair of researchers in a recent thought experiment.
In a new paper written by University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt and published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, the two researchers sought to answer several questions about the human race as we know it, and the possible ways in which civilizations can prove the existence of mankind millions of years into the future, should humans be completely extinct at that time.
"Gavin and I have not seen any evidence of another industrial civilization," Frank clarified, in a statement quoted by Science Daily.
"[But] These questions [asked in the study] make us think about the future and the past in a much different way, including how any planetary-scale civilization might rise and fall."
In order to determine the answers to the questions posed by the study, Frank and Schmidt elected to define civilizations by their use of energy, which is relevant as humanity's influence on Earth's climate and environment is a key feature of the Anthropocene period. Although the Anthropocene has yet to be listed as an official geological era, Schmidt told Newsweek that humans are leaving quite a footprint on our planet's geological record, as evidenced by animal extinctions linked to man-made factors, and the existence of plastics and synthetic chemicals, among other factors. The researchers also stressed that this is also manifested through global warming, which is largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels.
"We are already a geophysical force, and our presence is being recorded in carbon, oxygen and nitrogen isotopes," Schmidt commented.