The Epoch of Humans

By Museu do Amanhã

Museu do Amanhã

Mankind gave a giant leap when stepped on the Moon. But it was not the only one. For thousands of years we have been breaking ground, occupying, exploring and transforming the planet. In the last decades we have caused more changes than during our entire existence. We went beyond the Earth limits not only through spatial exploration but because we extracted nature resources faster than it can restore them. We are in the Anthropocene, the epoch of humans. How did we get here?

Museum of Tomorrow | The planet is changing (2016-01-01) by Google Earth EngineMuseu do Amanhã

Times Square, New York. Israel González (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (2012-07-26) by Israel González (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


The Earth is 4.6 billion years old; we, humans, are 200 thousand years old – which means that if the planet would be summed up in one day we would appear only in the last second. That did not stop us from building cities, destroying forests, excavating soils, polluting oceans and the air or taking other species to extinction while growing in more than 7 billion people. In view of changes in climate, atmosphere, rivers and biodiversity scientists point out that the planet is no longer the same our ancestors found or that of the geological epoch in which we have lived the last 12 thousand years, the Holocene, where the earth climate was propitious to our development. Now they are researching in which moment of our history we entered in this new era deeply marked by us, the Anthropocene.

Mother and child who lives in Mali, Africa. (UN Photo John Isaac CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (2011-11-16) by (UN Photo John Isaac CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


Mankind has traveled a journey of 60 thousand years from Africa to other continents. It crossed deserts, seas, forests, glaciers, mountain ranges, facing a new Ice Age. Along the way it created languages, tools, traditions and ways to live and understand the world. It also learned to cultivate and domesticate animals, giving signs that it was starting to understand the cycles of nature and behavior of other species. We reached all continents 10 thousand years ago and mankind had diversified itself: now it was Ethiopian, Egyptian, Assyrian, Sumerian, Hindu, Hia, Greek, Roman, Aborigine, Melanesian, Inuit, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Mayan, Aztec, Inca, Tupy, Pataxo, Nhambikuara, Guarany and an infinity of other peoples.

A woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo (UN Photo Marie Frechon CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (2007-03-11) by (UN Photo Marie Frechon CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

Mom and her baby at Vietnam. (UN Photo Kibae Park CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (2011-06-23) by (UN Photo Kibae Park CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

A indigenous boy in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. (UN Photo Evan Schneider CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (2015-01-15) by (UN Photo Evan Schneider CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

Indigenous from the Apiwtxa community, Acre, Brazil. (MinC Pedro França CC BY 2.0) (2010-09-02) by (MinC Pedro França CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

Aerial view of the Nile, occupied for thousands of years, taken from the International Space Station. (NASA) (2016-08-24) by (NASA)Museu do Amanhã


Agriculture brought forth the possibility of storing food. Thus, certain peoples quit the simple structure of hunting and collecting that would lead us to incessantly wandering to another structure of cultivation which was the based for the first villages. Origins of cities these sites started being built 4 thousand years ago on the margins of the great rivers such as Nile, Tigre and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, Huang Ho in China, and Ganges and Indo in India, Eurotas in Greece, Po in Italy and the Rio Grande de Santiago and Balsas in Mexico. Like hieroglyphs and old monuments these were the first prints we left in the planet; the agricultural potential would further increase with irrigation channels, ploughs and rotation of soil, but the very cycle of nature would assure the regeneration of what was extracted by these peoples.

Old hieroglyphs in a pyramid in Egypt (Matej Duzel CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (2016-01-01) by (Matej Duzel CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


Five thousand years ago the development of writing enabled us to control memory, starting with cuneiform writing that used drawings. Two hundred years later the observation of the Moon led us to create the first calendars and thus we controlled time. Now the first mathematical tests appeared four thousand years ago in Babylon and Egypt which enabled us to control the world measurements. We would continue developing ways to understand the planet, nature, other species and ourselves. The information also started crossing the planet as of 1440 with the invention of the press which produced serial printing much faster than any other previous technique. Also lenses were created in 1608, microscopes in 1665 in addition to the theories on human evolution, the solar system, the cosmos, genetics and much more.

World map updated with the findings of Amerigo Vespucci. (Martin Waldseemüller) (1507) by (Martin Waldseemüller)Museu do Amanhã


Spread out through the planet some peoples became great empires others remained isolated. Europeans, Africans and Asians had known each other way back but for centuries they had no contact with the lands they would later call America and Oceania. The planet cartography remained unfinished until the great navigations from the 16 th to the 18 th century when Europeans learned about the territories and peoples of the New World. These expeditions enabled the “discovery of the planet” as we know it today: six continents, five oceans, hundreds of archipelagos and thousands of species. But this was period marked both by the fascination of discoveries and by enslavement and decimation of entire populations; this was also the moment in which a network of commercial routes crossed continents and oceans involving the entire planet.

Industrial workers (Jonathan Kos-Read CC BY-ND 2.0) (2013-03-31) by (Jonathan Kos-Read CC BY-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


The planet landscape started drastically changing with the Industrial Revolution in the 18 th century. Factories, machines, inventions and new occupancies took the people out of their homes and the field where they were artisans and farmers to work in the industries of urban centers popping up in Europe and United States. The invention of steam-powered engines started the consumption of fossil fuels which worked as source of energy to industries by replacing animal traction, the wind force and the heat of word. From there, coal, oil and natural gas increasingly impacted the technological progress; in the 19 th century the economic development model transformed the nature into a source of resources and no longer into a habitat.

Museum of Tomorrow | Aerial view from Alberta Tar Sands (2012-01-01) by GreenpeaceMuseu do Amanhã

Urban landscape full of buildings. (Fabian Reus CC BY-SA 2.0) (2013-08-17) by (Fabian Reus CC BY-SA 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


As of the 19th century, mankind fingerprints on the planet were larger and more evident, starting with population and the big cities. In England, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, London reached 1 million people in 1800 being the first modern city having this number of dwellers. In 1900 there were already 12 cities with this population, and 15% of the world population which was around 1.65 billion lived in urban areas. These numbers continued increasing: in 1927 we were 2 billion people in the planet; in 1950 more than 2.5 billion and in 1960 3 billion. On the turn of the century, the world population already approached 6 billion and almost half of it lived in cities. More than 400 cities had more than 1 million inhabitants and 19 had more than 10 million. Today we are more than 7 billion people, more than half lives in cities. Forty-four cities have between 5 and 10 million residents, 29 have more than 10 million. All this growth in one century only becomes still bigger if we consider that mankind took longer, from its origin, 200 thousand years ago, to reach one billion.

Traffic in Delhi, India. (Azri Azahar CC BY 2.0) (2015-11-06) by (Azri Azahar CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

New York City (Kaysha CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) (2007-11-06) by (Kaysha CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

Tokyo, Japan. (Moyan Brenn CC BY 2.0) (2014-11-25) by (Moyan Brenn CC BY 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

Piccadilly Circus, London, at night (Kintarojoe CC BY-NC 2.0) (2012-02-21) by (Kintarojoe CC BY-NC 2.0) and Piccadilly Circus, London, at night (Kintarojoe CC BY-NC 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

Houses from Kya Sands and Bloubosrand in Cape Town. (Johnny Miller / Unequal Scenes) (2015-11-01) by (Johnny Miller / Unequal Scenes)Museu do Amanhã


The fast growth of the world population in the 20 th century was accompanied by an increase of consumption of fossil fuels, foodstuffs, water, products and ore. If the nature before was capable to restore what we extracted that no longer occurred in the seventies when the quantity of natural resources explored in one year became higher than the capacity nature has to replace them in the same period. In 1971, we exceeded this limit in December; in 1981 in November and currently the “planet overload” happens in August. The pressure over the planet is so high that it would be necessary one and half year for the nature to replace what we consume in one year. But that does not mean that there is an equalitarian distribution of its resources: inequality is one of the marks of the globalized capitalist world: an American consumes 11 times more than one African or South-Asian and has a carbon footprint 250 times greater than an Ethiopian.

Ocean polluted by disaster in oil rig (Daniel Beltrá / Greenpeace) by (Daniel Beltrá / Greenpeace)Museu do Amanhã


The haphazard exploration of nature has also caused huge environmental disasters: accidents in nuclear plants such as Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 and Fukushima in Japan, in 2011 are still counting their victims. In 2010 and 2011 oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and Campos Basin damaged habitats and caused loss of human and marine life. The breach of Fundão Dam in 2015, the largest environmental disaster in Brazil so far, asphyxiated the Doce River and impacted the life of residents of a small town in Minas Gerais.

Paris, the 'City of Light', at night (NASA CC BY-NC 2.0). by (NASA CC BY-NC 2.0)Museu do Amanhã


The crossing of long distances was made easy by invention of ships, trains, automobiles and airplanes. The speed of information also increased, after press, with telegraph, telephone, radio, TV; to make that possible the cities required the construction of systems with thousands of wires, cables and lead pipes crossing underground – subsequently replaced by copper cables and then fiber optics. Today a global conversation happens in real time by cell phones, Internet and new information and communication technologies: it crosses the planets by SMS, tweets, hash tags, etc. The power to communicate is literally in our hands and the world seems increasingly smaller and increasingly more connected.

The first photograph of Earth view of the Moon known as 'Earthrise' (Bill Anders / NASA) (1969-01-01) by (Bill Anders / NASA)Museu do Amanhã


A new perspective of the Earth was revealed while all these changes happened: that was when mankind could see the planet, their home for 200 thousand years, from outer space. The lucky first was Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961 who was captivated by the blue light involving the planet; now in 1968 they were three Americans onboard the Apollo 8 who circled the moon and saw the Earth 386 thousand kilometers away. Astronaut Bill Anders recorded the moment by photographing the moon surface and one hemisphere lit by the sun. Our power took us outside our planet; today we are making plans to go back to the moon, searching water in Mars, looking for planets outside the Solar System.

NASA astronaut who is a member of the crew of the International Space Station. (NASA CC BY-NC 2.0) (2014-03-14) by (NASA CC BY-NC 2.0)Museu do Amanhã

View the Earth shot of the International Space Station. (NASA) (2016-04-19) by (NASA)Museu do Amanhã

Today we are more than 7 billion people. Viewed from this distance, our presence in the planet goes unnoticed except at night due to the lights of cities. The beautiful blue color covers the deforestation, the draughts, the shortage of fresh water, the soil erosion, the loss of biodiversity, the pollution of oceans and atmosphere. But seen from so far away we finally understand that the Earth unlike the current development model leads us to believe, is finite. But, according to researches, if we go on like this, we will be needing resources from three planets Earth to supply the world population’s demands by 2050.

Credits: Story

Chairman of IDG's Board of Directors: Fred Arruda
CEO: Ricardo Piquet
Chief Curator: Luiz Alberto Oliveira
Director of Content: Alfredo Tolmasquim
Director of Operations & Finance: Henrique Oliveira
Director of Public Development: Alexandre Fernandes
Director of Planning & Management: Vinicius Capillé
Director of Funding: Renata Salles
Exhibitions & Observatory of Tomorrow Manager: Leonardo Menezes
Research and Writing: Davi Bonela
Editing videos: Eduardo Carvalho
Editing text: Emanuel Alencar
Photos: NASA, United Nations, Johnny Miller ( Flickr (Creative Commons)
Videos: Google Earth Engine, Greenpeace and NASA

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps