Deep Time is a term coined by John McPhee in the 1980's built upon ideas geologists had been discussing since the 18thC.
In essence, Deep Time refers to the utter vastness which stretches back from the present to the Earth's beginnings around four and a half million years ago. We like to think we own the earth and have created everything around us, but deep time keeps us in touch with the truth. We are just a moment amongst many, a nano-second in the vastness of reality - and yet, despite our relative insignificance, we have the privilige of understanding and exploring our world.
The first computer was designed by Babbage in 1834
The English colonized Britain around 600AD (give or take)
Writing began about 5,000 years ago
Farming began around 10,000 years ago
The first pottery appeared 26,000 years ago
The first carvings apear 90,000 years ago
The first stone tool appeared 2 million years earlier
The first humans walked upright around 2 million years before that.
Yet the 4 million years humans have been around is nothing in the vast landscape of Deep Time.
To use Sir David Attenborough's classic analogy from his 1970's series 'Life on Earth,' if we think of the entire history of the world as a year:
Earth was formed on new years day at 4.6 million years ago.
The first life: single celled bacteria apear on 21st Feb.
Complex multicelled life (jellyfish, corals, triobites) do not appear until 12th Nov.
Amphibians crawl onto the land on 28th Nov.
Mammals and birds appear at the peak of the age of the dinosaurs (Jurassic) 17th Dec.
The dinosaurs become extinct on the day after Christmas.
The first hominids (our ape like ancestors) appear 8 hrs before New Years Eve.
The Neanderthals appear 10 minutes before New Years Eve.
And to add some embelishments by Donald Prothero:
'Recorded human history begins less than one minute before New Years Eve, as the conductor raises his baton to start Auld Lang Syne. Within a second before midnight, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species is published. Virtually all of human history, especially the last few thousand years is drowned out by the drunks who blow their noisemakers a fraction of a second too early!'
So where does this leave us?
With a hightened respect of the natural world and an understanding that the world is not ours, nor built for us. Everything we see around us is mostly below 200 years old, and everything we think no more than 3000 years of age.
We have the privilege of being the first and only life form we know of who can comprehend such staggering information. We, therefore have a duty to study, explore and protect our world as we find ourselves as gods of a world we did not create.
In the grand scheme of things we're nothing - yet we are (from our perspective) the end result of God's slow cooker....