Blog 121. How old is a fossil?

A Harvard authority explains that cockroaches have been around for three hundred million years.  Those bugs will probably still be around cleaning up the mess long after we humans have put ourselves out of existence.  That makes me wonder whether bugs have always been dominant despite my impression that it’s the politicians who bug me.

Cockroaches—three hundred million years!  That’s a long success story.  Know how big three hundred million is?  That many dollar bills laid end to end would reach all the way around the equator and leave thirty-five million in change.

To put cockroach existence in comparison with the duration of human events, note that civilization began about 6,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans developed about 200,000 years ago, and humanoid critters have been around for maybe two or three million years.  But the cockroaches, who were well-acquainted with the dinosaurs, are newcomers when compared with some itty-bitty bugs.

In 2016, a geologist reported finding fossils of bacteria that lived 2.5 billion years ago.  A billion is a thousand million, so 2.5 billion dollar bills would go around the earth more than nine times.  (Congress seems unaware of that when they throw money.)  The scientific point is that early life forms existed quite well before green things developed to make oxygen for our atmosphere.  Those early bacteria were larger than modern bacteria, but similar to current single-cell organisms that live deep in the ocean where sulfur emissions inhibit oxygen.

More recently, scientists announced finding tube-shaped fossils formed by bacteria that lived on iron—some 3.7 billion years ago.  This one-upsmanship among the ages of fossils has got to end.  Hey, the earth is only 4.5 billion years old.  Today.

So what’s the point of other ages, when modern American humans find it difficult to live one day (year, century, whatever) at a time?

It’s just a philosophical point. Life does go on despite huge, continent-destroying and continent-building changes.  But life as known to us, with fruit farms and furry animals, is a recent phenomenon.  We should treat such life with respect, not making war either upon it or upon the science that is the only way we have for unfolding the evidence.

One thought on “Blog 121. How old is a fossil?

  1. Lucia ·

    Fascinating re how long some of those critters have been on the planet! And your equator measurement comparisons re the astronomical figures help loads!

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