Committees and organizations usually start for the right reasons but over time they need to become self-perpetuating.

The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) has managed to milk entire decades out of deciding the boundary dates for the Quaternary Age, which covers both the ice age and moment early man first started to use tools, and it seems they have finally voted on an answer.  

Voting in science?   Indeed, they have formally agreed to move the boundary dates for the prehistoric Quaternary age by 800,000 years, reports the Journal of Quaternary Science

In the 18th Century the earth's history was split into four epochs, Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Quaternary.  The first two have been renamed Palaeozoic and Mesozoic respectively but the second two have remained in use by scientists for more than 150 years. In that time, there has been a protracted debate over the position and status of Quaternary in the geological time scale and the intervals of time it represents.

After decades of debate and four years of investigation, they agreed on an answer and they moved the boundary dates by those 800,000 years, much to the delight of textbook companies.

"It has long been agreed that the boundary of the Quaternary Period should be placed at the first sign of global climate cooling," said Professor Philip Gibbard. "What we have achieved is the definition of the boundary of the Quaternary to an internationally recognised and fixed point that represents a natural event, the beginning of the ice ages on a global scale."

Controversy over when exactly the Quaternary Period began has raged among geologists for decades, with attempts in 1948 and 1983 to define the era; in 1983 the boundary was fixed at 1.8 million years, a decision which sparked arguments within the earth science community because some did not regard it as a 'natural boundary' and it had no particular geological significance. 

Detractors felt that the boundary should be located earlier, at a time of greater change in the earth-climate system. 

"For practical reasons such boundaries should ideally be made as easy as possible to identify all around the world. The new boundary of 2.6 million years is just that," concluded Gibbard, "hence we are delighted at finally achieving our goal of removing the boundary to this earlier point."

"The decision is a very important one for the scientific community working in the field," said Journal Editor Professor Chris Caseldine. "It provides us with a point in geological time when we effectively did move into a climatic era recognisably similar to the geological present."