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.