Item Details

The Technofossil: A Memento Mori

Issue: Vol 5 No. 1 (2018) Special Issue: Time of Materials

Journal: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology

Subject Areas: Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jca.33380


In the process of formally identifying a geological interval, it is crucial for stratigraphersto find the point at which strata reveal a significant, dramatic shift in the types of fossilsand other geological markers being found. In the nomenclature of the discipline thispoint constitutes a "golden spike". For the geologists advancing the proposition that theAnthropocene might be formalized as the Earth's latest interval on the geologic time scale,this spike will be registered by the sudden appearance of a new sedimentary layer - onedecisively marked by the presence of "technofossils". From the proliferation of deepperforations of the strata by mining to the wide distribution of rare elements (aluminum,titanium, uranium) and novel compounds (plastics), for the geologists advocating thenotion of the Anthropocene, the deposits of human technology buried in the Earth's crustwill not only be that species' geological legacy, but the mineral markers of its emergenceas a major geo-force. No doubt the logos of the technofossil is important for geologistsmaking the case for the Anthropocene's formalization as a geological interval; its pathos,however, is of equal import in building a public for it. In the hands of the Anthropocene'sstratigraphers the prospective mineralization of human activity is also the species' anticipatedmemorialization: literally written in stone, the strata of the Anthropocene will bea memorial to human existence - to the era of its doing and undoing. In this, then, thetechnofossil is as much a memento mori as it is a heuristic for imagining a world after thehuman - a "world without us". It is this conjuncture that this paper explores.

Author: Ben Dibley

View Original Web Page

References :

Bennett, T. 2004. Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism. London and New York: Routledge.

Clark, N. 2012. “Rock, Life, Fire: Speculative Geophysics and the Anthropocene.” Oxford Literary Review 34 (2): 259–276.

____. 2013. Geoengineering and Geologic Politics. Environment and Planning A 45: 2825–2832.

____. 2017. “Politics of Strata.” Theory, Culture & Society 34 (2–3): 105–127.

Cohen, J. 2015. “Geophilia, or The Love of Stone.” Continent 4 (2): 8–18.

Colebrook, C. 2014. “Archiviolithic: The Anthropocene and the Hetero-Archive.” Derrida Today 7 (1): 21–43.

Dibley, B. 2012a. “‘Nature is Us’: The Anthropocene and Species-Being.” Transformations 21. Available online:

____. 2012b. “‘The Shape of Things to Come’: Seven Theses on the Anthropocene and Attachment.” Australian Humanities Review 52: 139–158.

____. 2015. “Anthropocene: The Enigma of ‘The Geomorphic Fold’.” In Animals in the Anthropocene: Critical Perspectives on Non-Human Futures, edited by HARN Editorial Collective, 36–48. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

DeLanda, M. 1997. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Haff, P. K. 2013. “Technology as a Geological Phenomenon: Implications for Human Well-Being.” In A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene, edited by C. N. Waters, J. A. Zalasiewicz, M. Williams, M. A. Ellis and A. M. Snelling, 301–309. London: Geological Society.

____. 2014. “Humans and Technology in the Anthropocene: Six Rules.” Anthropocene Review 1 (2): 126–136.

Latour, B. 2013. Facing Gaia: Six Lectures on the Political Theology of Nature. Gifford Lecture Series 2013, Edinburgh University. Videos available online:

____. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.

Lynas, M. 2011. The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans. London: Fourth Estate.

Marx, K. 1979 [1852]. “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” In Marx/Engels Collected Works 11: 99–209. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Povinelli, E. 2016. Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

____., M. Coleman and K. Yusoff. 2014. “On Biopolitics and the Anthropocene: Elizabeth Povinelli, Interviewed by Mat Coleman and Kathryn Yusoff.” Space and Society. Available online:

Steffen, W., J. Grinevald, P. Crutzen, and J. McNeill. 2011. The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369 (1938): 842–867.

Szerszynski, B. 2010. “Reading and Writing the Weather: Climate Technics and the Moment of Responsibility.” Theory, Culture & Society 27 (2–3): 9–30.

Szerszynski, B. 2012. “The End of the End of Nature: The Anthropocene and the Fate of the Human.” Oxford Literary Review 34 (2): 165–184.

Thacker, E. 2011. In the Dust of this Planet. Horror of Philosophy 1. Ropley, UK: Zero Books.

University of Leicester. 2014. “Technofossils – An Unprecedented Legacy Left Behind by Humans.” Available online:

Westermann, A. Forthcoming. “A Technofossil of the Anthropocene: Sliding Up and Down Temporal Scales with Plastic.” In Power and Time, edited by D. Edelstein, S. Geroulanos and N. Wheatley. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Yusoff, K. 2013a. “Geologic Life: Prehistory, Climate, Futures in the Anthropocene.” Environment and Planning D 31 (5): 779–795.

____. 2013b. “Project Anthropocene: A Minoritarian Manifesto for Reoccupying the Strata.” Geocritique. Available online:

Zalasiewicz, J. 2008. The Earth After Us: What Legacy Will Humans Leave in the Rocks? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

____., R. Kryza and M. Williams. 2013. “The Mineral Signature of the Anthropocene.” In A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene, edited by C. N. Waters, J. A. Zalasiewicz, M. Williams, M. A. Ellis and A. M. Snelling, 109–117. London: Geological Society.

Zalasiewicz, J., C. N. Waters, M. Williams, A. D. Barnosky, A. Cearreta, P. Crutzen, E. Ellis, M. A. Ellis, I. J. Fairchild, J. Grinevald, P. K. Haff, I. Hajdas, R. Leinfelder, J. McNeill, E. O. Odada, C. Poirier, D. Richter, W. Steffen, C. Summerhayes, J. P. M. Syvitski, D. Vidas, M. Wagreich, S. L. Wing, A. P. Wolfe, Z. An and N. Oreskes 2015. “When Did the Anthropocene Begin? A Mid‐Twentieth Century Boundary Level is Stratigraphically Optimal.” Quaternary International 383: 196–203.

Zalasiewicz, J., M. Williams and C. Waters. 2014 “Can an Anthropocene Series be Defined and Recognized?” In A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene, edited by C. N. Waters, J. A. Zalasiewicz, M. Williams, M. A. Ellis and A. M. Snelling, 39–53. London: Geological Society.

____., A. Barnosky and P. Haff. 2014. “The Technofossil Record of Humans.” Anthropocene Review 1 (1): 34–43.