In The Field

INQUA: Welcome to the Quaternary

The first thing you may be wondering, gentle reader, is what exactly is Quaternary research? Simple – it’s anything that addresses the last 1.8 million years or so. ‘Quaternary’ means fourth, and geologists introduced the term to differentiate the period from the earlier Tertiary (third) period of geologic time.

The Quaternary is important, INQUA folks will tell you, because a lot of important things have happened in the last couple of million years. Hominids arose in Africa, became modern humans, and spread around the world. Ice ages came and went. Great animals rose and became extinct. It has been a busy time.

INQUA itself meets only every four years, and topics at the meeting range from paleoclimate (what happened on the Tibet plateau during the last couple of glaciations?) to human evolution (when and how did people colonize Australia, and what effect did they have on the landscape when they did?). Meeting organizers are trying to cram in a lot, and the 1,000 people attending this conference will have all week to try to make sense of things.

And so it’s off to the races…


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