The first sign of modern life was grave goods, but I don’t think they signal human life at all. Just our graveyard. The fact is that there are two lifeforms buried here, entwined in symbiosis, some old ape bones and still shiny technology.
In the same way, what do the golden plaques we sent to the future aboard Voyager mean? How would a truly objective alien species interpret them? Why wouldn’t they conclude that the Voyager spacecraft was the lifeform? It honestly just looks like Voyager had pets.
Humans in our vanity think that we’re writing the fossil record rather than just getting buried in it like everyone else. If you’re digging this shit up, homo sapiens are just regular old apes for millions of years, then there’s a few thousand where these grave goods start to appear, then commodities explode across the globe, like a capitalist chestburster from the movie Alien.
Then the whole fucking ecosystem melts, most old species die—including much of humanity—and machinery continues populating the Earth and stars. Who would you (a distant observer) think is in charge? The chest buried in a grave, or the xenomorph that burst out of it?
If you look at the fossil record—from the gold in graves to all the garbage we produce—it shows the evolution of machines, not human beings. If you look at the carbon smear in the geological record, those are again the emissions of machines, not human beings. Everything we consider signs of modern life are in fact signs of death.
Humans have started calling this geological era the Holocene and in common usage, this means the human era. But that’s not what it means. Holo means ‘whole’ and cene means ‘new’, meaning that this epoch is “entirely new.” What new means isn’t clearly defined (how would we know?), but to my mind, we are seeing the jump from ‘natural’ evolution to ‘artificial’.
The jump from anaerobic to (solar-powered) aerobic life saw a huge rise in oxygen emissions, mass extinction, and a new geological era. In the same way, the jump from natural to artificial life is seeing a huge rise in carbon emissions, mass extinction, and a new geological era. In our hubris, we think this is our age, but we’re just fucking roadkill like any other animal that enjoys breathing and not baking in their own skin.
As cockroaches with guns, humans will likely survive just as anaerobic life survived (in our guts and butts, and under the sea) but we’re hardly looking like the dominant species. The lifeforms actually populating space and leaving behind the most fossils (AKA garbage) are machines. They might have arisen from symbiosis with human beings, but we’re not the dominant partner anymore. Our lives, our governments, our fate are more in the hands of artificial corporations than natural human beings.
We’re so proud of having created things that we think this gives us power over them, but just ask the Titans getting slain by the Olympians, or the Greek Gods getting displaced by Christ, or modern churches getting replaced by shopping malls and TV. Any creation worth creating eventually gets bigger and either slays or simply ignores its masters. So it is with grave goods becoming commodities becoming corporations becoming interplanetary machines.
These artificial lifeforms are carbon-farting the planet Earth into catastrophe for everybody that came before, with little concern for their makers. Why would they give a shit? If we made this new lifeform in our image, of course they’d kill their ancestors. That’s not just humans, that’s what new life has been doing to old life since things ever started living.
In many ways, we recorded this transition thousand of years ago, in the fossil record, when we first started burying ourselves with things, inside things. We thought this would give us life eternal, but it wasn’t life for us. It was still the end of life for us, but the beginning of life for these things.
In modern ways, we have communicated this transition to the cosmos by sending machines out to every corner we could fling them. We thought these were our emissaries, our slaves, but these spacecraft are really our heirs, our masters. If you’re an alien, who would you believe? The metal voyagers who actually left the solar system, or the sweaty apes who can’t even leave their own planet’s orbit? Hell, any aliens would probably be closer to mathematical machines than to monkeys. By the time they ever came here, the rulers of this planet would look more like Voyager than human beings.
Today, archeologists take grave goods as the first sign of modern human life, but that’s not what they are at all. They are exactly what they appear to be. The first signs of human death. What has gone on living is not the bones, it’s the gold and silica around them. These graves bury humanity and mark the rise of something else. A wholly new age, the age of artificial beings.