Golden Spike Rock Shop of the Anthropocene
Route 66, the Main Street of America, begins in the heart of Chicago at Michigan Avenue and Adams Street and continues, angling west along Ogden Avenue. The first stretch of the historic route runs through the flatness of the prairie and plains states. Further along in the Southwest the road becomes rich with geologic sites like the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, and the Grand Canyon accompanied by tourist oriented rock shops that sell geologic wonders from the area. The state of Illinois is not known for its geologic interest, but I propose that Chicago should be included in the list of attractions as a prime example in the geologic record of the Anthropocene. What we lack in natural geologic formations visible to the eye we have made up for in the man made urban geology of Chicago’s architecture and infrastructure. The Golden Spike Rock Shop of the Anthropocene offers tourists and locals a place to collect, inspect, and discuss our current geologic epoch.
Anthropocene refers to what a growing number of geologists and scientists believe should enter the nomenclature as our present geological epoch. The current definition of the term was popularized by the Nobel Prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen, who began to speak and write on the subject around the turn of the century. The controversy that currently bars the Anthropocene from official recognition by the International Commission on Stratigraphy is the issue of where to place the golden spike. A golden spike, or Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), is a physical point in the stratigraphic record that marks the beginning of a new geologic stage. This new epoch will not be officially recognized until a date and spike are set. Currently the strongest contenders for start dates are 1610, which marks the collision of European and American cultures that led to a collapse of the latter and a marked decrease in carbon dioxide due to the loss of population, and 1964, which is the date of the first nuclear weapons testing that will leave a quantifiable number of isotopes in the geologic record.
The rock shop is a space where consumerism and science are combined. A store can be more powerful than a museum collection because it offers the visitor a chance to own a piece of history, science, or art. The power of a museum’s collection, and likewise a store’s inventory, is just that, the fact that the objects have been collected and displayed as part of a greater whole. The act of collection gives that painting, rock, or skull its power to draw interest and to represent an idea or moment in time. The rocks for sale in the Golden Spike Rock Shop are truly just the detritus of urban existence, but by collecting them and pointing to their place as Anthropocenic artifacts, I hope to bring to attention their beauty and value both formally and conceptually.
If we accept the Anthropocene as our current epoch, Chicago’s comparatively flat, glaciated geologic record becomes incredibly rich. In the same way that tectonic plates thrust the mountains of the West up out of the earth, the people of Chicago have erected buildings, roads, underground tunnels, and infrastructure for the city, the record of which will last far into the future. Over time, cities will compress, but the materials that make them will remain in some form. Will this physical record be considered geologic or archaeological? The Anthropocene epoch presents a unique intersection of these two areas of study. Consider concrete, it is made up of natural materials, but it is notably “made”. Other materials like marble are not necessarily altered, but the very act of mining and moving them to a new location is at once a matter of archaeology, anthropology and geology. The goal of the Rock Shop is to explore that intersection during this rare moment in time when we are knowingly creating a geologic period of our own.