Cesare Emiliani's proposal for a calendar reform sought to solve a number of alleged problems with the current Anno Domini era, which number the years of the commonly accepted world calendar. These issues include:
- The Anno Domini era is based on the erroneous estimation of the birth year of Jesus. The era places Jesus's birth year in AD 1, but modern scholars have determined that he was likely born in or before 4 BC. Emiliani argued that replacing it with the approximate beginning of the Holocene makes more sense.
- The birth date of Jesus is a less universally relevant epoch event than the approximate beginning of the Holocene.
- The years BC/BCE are counted down when moving from past to future, making calculation of time spans difficult.
- The Anno Domini era has no year zero, with 1 BC followed immediately by AD 1, complicating the calculation of timespans further. This is equally true of the Common Era, its non-religious equivalent.
Instead, HE uses the "beginning of human era" as its epoch, arbitrarily defined as 10,000 BC denoted year 1 HE, so that AD 1 matches 10,001 HE. This is a rough approximation of the start of the current geologic epoch, the Holocene (the name means entirely recent). The motivation for this is that human civilization (e.g. the first settlements, agriculture, etc.) is believed to have arisen within this time. Emiliani would later propose that the start of the Holocene be fixed at the same date as the beginning of his proposed era.
Human Era proponents claim that it makes for easier geological, archaeological, dendrochronological and historical dating, as well as that it bases its epoch on an event more universally relevant than the birth of Jesus. All key dates in human history can then be listed using a simple increasing date scale with smaller dates always occurring before larger dates. Another gain is that the Holocene Era starts before the other calendar eras. So it could be useful for the comparison and conversion of dates from different calendars.
When Emiliani proposed the calendar in 1994, he mentioned that there was no agreement on the date of the start of the Holocene epoch, with estimates at the time ranging between 12,700 and 10,970 years BP. Since then, scientists have improved their understanding of the Holocene on the evidence of ice cores and can now more accurately date its beginning. A consensus view was formally adopted by the IUGS in 2013, placing its start at 11,700 years before 2000 (9701 BCE), about 300 years more recent than the epoch of the Holocene calendar.