Timeline of natural history
This timeline of natural history summarizes significant cosmological, geological and biological events from the formation of the Universe to the rise of modern humans. Times are listed in millions of years, or megaanni (Ma).
- 1 Formation of the Universe
- 2 The earliest Solar System
- 3 Hadean Eon
- 4 Archaean Eon
- 5 Proterozoic Eon
- 6 Phanerozoic Eon
- 6.1 Paleozoic Era
- 6.2 Mesozoic Era
- 6.3 Cenozoic Era
- 7 Etymology of period names
- 8 References
- 9 See also
Formation of the Universe
- 13,798 ± 0,037 Ma ago: estimated age of the universe according to the Big Bang theory
- 13,600–13,500 Ma: First stars begin to shine
- 13,200 Ma: age of the oldest known star in the galaxy, HE 1523-0901.
- 13,100 Ma: Galaxies form
- 12,700 Ma: age of the quasar CFHQS 1641+3755
- 9,000 Ma: Earliest Population I, or Sunlike stars.
The earliest Solar System
In the earliest solar system history, the sun, the planetesimals and the jovian planets were formed. The inner solar system aggregated more slowly than the outer, so the terrestrial planets were not yet formed, including Earth and Moon.
- c. 4,570 Ma: A supernova explosion seeds our galactic neighborhood with heavy elements that will be incorporated into the Earth, and results in a shock wave in a dense region of the Milky Way galaxy. The Ca-Al-rich inclusions, which formed 2 million years before the chondrules, are a key signature of a supernova explosion.
- 4,567±3 Ma: Rapid collapse of hydrogen molecular cloud, forming a third-generation Population I star, the Sun, in a region of the Galactic Habitable Zone (GHZ), about 25,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.
- 4,566±2 Ma: A protoplanetary disc (from which Earth eventually forms) emerges around the young Sun, which is in its T Tauri stage.
- 4,560–4550 Ma: Proto-Earth forms at the outer (cooler) edge of the habitable zone of the Solar System. At this stage the solar constant of the sun was only about 73% of its current value, but liquid water may have existed on the surface of the Proto-earth, probably due to the greenhouse warming of high levels of methane and carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere.
- 4,533 Ma: Hadean Eon, Precambrian Supereon and unofficial Cryptic era start as the Earth–Moon system forms, possibly as a result of a glancing collision between proto–Earth and the hypothetical protoplanet Theia. (The Earth was considerably smaller than now, before this impact.) This impact vaporized a large amount of the crust, and sent material into orbit around Earth, which lingered as rings for a few million years, until these rings condensed into the Moon. The Moon geology pre-Nectarian period starts. Earth was covered by a magmatic ocean 200 kilometres (120 mi) deep resulting from the impact energy from this and other planetesimals during the early bombardment phase, and energy released by the planetary core forming. Outgassing from crustal rocks gives Earth a reducing atmosphere of methane, nitrogen, hydrogen, ammonia, and water vapour, with lesser amounts of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, then carbon dioxide. With further full outgassing over 1000–1500 K, nitrogen and ammonia become lesser constituents, and comparable amounts of methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, water vapour, and hydrogen are released.
- 4,450 Ma: 100 million years after the Moon formed, the first lunar crust, formed of lunar anorthosite, differentiates from lower magmas. The earliest Earth crust probably forms similarly out of similar material. On Earth the pluvial period starts, in which the Earth's crust cools enough to let oceans form.
- 4,404 Ma: First known mineral, found at Jack Hills in Western Australia. Detrital zircons show presence of a solid crust and liquid water. Latest possible date for a secondary atmosphere to form, produced by the Earth's crust outgassing, reinforced by water and possibly organic molecules delivered by comet impacts and carbonaceous chondrites (including type CI shown to be high in a number of amino acids and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)).
- 4,150 Ma: Unofficial Basin Groups Era starts.
- 4,100 Ma: Acasta Gneiss of Northwest Territories, Canada, first known oldest rock, or aggregate of minerals.
- 4,000 Ma: Archean Eon and Eoarchean Era start.
- 3920–3850 Ma: Late heavy bombardment of the Moon (and probably of the Earth as well) by bolides and asteroids, produced possibly by the planetary migration of Neptune into the Kuiper belt as a result of orbital resonances between Jupiter and Saturn.
- 3,850 Ma: Greenland apatite shows evidence of 12C enrichment, characteristic of the presence of photosynthetic life.
- 3,850 Ma: First evidence of life: Akilia Island graphite off Western Greenland contains evidence of kerogen, of a type consistent with photosynthesis.
- 3,800 Ma: Oldest banded iron formations found.
- 3,700 Ma: Graphite found to be biogenic in 3.7 billion-year-old metasedimentary rocks discovered in Western Greenland
- 3,600 Ma: Paleoarchean Era starts. Possible assembly of the Vaalbara supercontinent
- 3,500 Ma: Fossils resembling cyanobacteria, found at Warrawoona, Western Australia.
- 3,480 Ma: Fossils of microbial mat found in 3.48 billion-year-old sandstone discovered in Western Australia.
- 3,460 Ma: Fossils of bacteria in chert.
- 3,300 Ma: Onset of compressional tectonics
- 3,200 Ma: Mesoarchean Era starts.
- 3,200–2600 Ma: Assembly of the Ur supercontinent to cover between 12–16% of the current continental crust.
- 2,900 Ma: Assembly of the Kenorland supercontinent, based upon the core of the Baltic shield, formed at 3100 Ma.
- 2,800 Ma: Neoarchean Era starts. Breakup of the Vaalbara supercontinent
- 2,736 Ma: Formation of the Temagami greenstone belt in Temagami, Ontario, Canada
- 2,705 Ma: Major komatiite eruption, possibly global
- 2,700 Ma: Biomarkers of cyanobacteria discovered, together with steranes (sterols of cholesterol), associated with films of eukaryotes, in shales located beneath banded iron formation hematite beds, in Hamersley Range, Western Australia Skewed sulfur isotope ratios found in pyrites shows a small rise in oxygen concentration in the atmosphere
- 2,600 Ma: Oldest known giant carbonate platform
- 2,500 Ma: Proterozoic Eon, Paleoproterozoic Era, and Siderian Period start. Banded iron formations form during this period. Earth's atmosphere starts to become oxygenic. Assembly of Arctica out of the Canadian Laurentian Shield and Siberian craton.
- 2,400 Ma: Huronian glaciation starts, probably from oxidation of earlier methane greenhouse gas produced by burial of organic sediments of photosynthesizers. First cyanobacteria.
- 2,400 Ma: Suavjarvi impact structure forms. This is the oldest known impact crater whose remnants are still recognizable.
- 2,300 Ma: Rhyacian period starts.
- 2,200–1800 Ma: Continental Red Beds found, produced by iron in weathered sandstone being exposed to oxygen.
- 2,200 Ma: Iron content of ancient fossil soils shows an oxygen built up to 5–18% of current levels
- 2,100 Ma: Huronian glaciation ends. Earliest known eukaryote fossils found. Earliest multicellular organisms (Francevillian Group Fossil)
- 2,050 Ma: Orosirian Period starts. Significant orogeny in most continents.
- 2,023 Ma: Vredefort impact structure forms.
- 2,000 Ma: The lesser supercontinent Atlantica forms. The Oklo natural nuclear reactor of Gabon produced by uranium-precipitant bacteria. First acritarchs.
- 1,850 Ma: Sudbury impact structure. Penokean orogeny. First eukaryotes. Bacterial viruses (bacteriophage) emerge before, or soon after, the divergence of the prokaryotic and eukaryotic lineages.
- 1,800 Ma: Statherian Period starts. Supercontinent Columbia forms, one of whose fragments being Nena. Oldest ergs develop on several cratons
- 1,600 Ma: Mesoproterozoic Era and Calymmian Period start. Platform covers expand.
- 1,500 Ma: Supercontinent Columbia breaks up. First structurally complex eukaryotes.
- 1,400 Ma: Ectasian Period starts. Platform covers expand. Stromatolite diversity increases.
- 1,300 Ma: Grenville orogeny starts.
- 1,200 Ma: Stenian Period starts. Red alga Bangiomorpha pubescens, earliest fossil evidence for sexually reproducing organism. Meiosis and sexual reproduction are present in single-celled eukaryotes, and possibly in the common ancestor of all eukaryotes. Supercontinent Rodinia comes together.
- 1,100 Ma: First dinoflagellate.
- 1,000 Ma: Neoproterozoic Era and Tonian Period start. Grenville orogeny ends. First radiation of acritarchs. Rodinia starts to break up. First vaucherian algae.
- 850 Ma: Cryogenian Period starts, during which Earth freezes over (Snowball Earth or Slushball Earth) at least 3 times.
- 750 Ma: Sturtian glaciation starts. Rodinia splits. Beginning of a possible Snowball Earth ice age. First protozoa.
- 700 Ma: Worm impressions in China.
- 685 Ma: Varanger glaciation begins.
- 635 Ma: Varanger glaciation ends.
- 635 Ma: Ediacaran period begins.
- 600 Ma: Pan-African orogeny. Supercontinent Pannotia forms.
- 575 Ma: First Ediacaran-type fossils.
- 560 Ma: Trace fossils, e.g., worm burrows, and small bilaterally symmetrical animals. Earliest arthropods. Earliest fungi.
- 555 Ma: The first possible mollusk Kimberella appears.
- 550 Ma: First possible comb-jellies, sponges, corals, and anemones.
- 544 Ma: The small shelly fauna first appears.
- 541 ± 0.3 Ma: beginning of the Cambrian Period, the Paleozoic Era and the Phanerozoic (current) Eon. End of the Ediacaran Period, the Proterozoic Eon and the Precambrian Supereon. Time since the Cambrian explosion the emergence of most forms of complex life, including vertebrates (fish), arthropods, echinoderms and molluscs. Pannotia breaks up into several smaller continents: Laurentia, Baltica and Gondwana.
- 540 Ma: Supercontinent of Pannotia breaks up.
- 485.4 ± 1.7 Ma: Beginning of the Ordovician and the end of the Cambrian Period.
- 485 Ma: First jawless fish.
- 450 Ma: Plants and arthropods colonize the land. Sharks evolve.
- 440 Ma: First agnathan fish.
- 443.4 ± 1.5 Ma: Beginning of the Silurian and the end of the Ordovician Period.
- 420 Ma: First creature took a breath of air. First ray-finned fish and land scorpions.
- 410 Ma: First toothed fish and nautiloids.
- 419.2 ± 2.8 Ma: Beginning of the Devonian and end of the Silurian Period. First insects.
- 395 Ma: First of many modern groups, including tetrapods.
- 360 Ma: First crabs and ferns.
- 350 Ma: First large sharks, ratfish and hagfish.
- 358.9 ± 2.5 Ma: Beginning of the Carboniferous and the end of Devonian Period. Amphibians diversify.
- 330 Ma: First amniotes evolve.
- 320 Ma: First synapsids evolve.
- 315 Ma: The evolution of the first reptiles.
- 305 Ma: First diapsids evolve.
- 298.9 ± 0.8 Ma: End of Carboniferous and beginning of Permian Period. By this time, all continents have fused into the supercontinent of Pangaea. Beetles evolve. Seed plants and conifers diversify along with temnospondyls and pelycosaurs.
- 275 Ma: First therapsids evolve.
- 251.4 Ma: Permian mass extinction. End of Permian Period and of the Palaeozoic Era. Beginning of Triassic Period, the Mesozoic era and of the age of the dinosaurs.
- 252.2 ± 0.4 Ma: Mesozoic era and Triassic Period begin. Mesozoic Marine Revolution begins.
- 245 Ma: First ichthyosaurs.
- 240 Ma: Cynodonts and rhynchosaurs diversify.
- 225 Ma: First dinosaurs and teleosti evolve.
- 220 Ma: First crocodilians and flies.
- 215 Ma: First turtles. Long-necked sauropod dinosaurs and Coelophysis, one of the earliest theropod dinosaurs, evolve. First mammals.
- 201.3 ± 0.6 Ma: end of Triassic and beginning of Jurassic Period. The largest dinosaurs, such as Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus evolve during this time, as do the carnosaurs; large, bipedal predatory dinosaurs such as Allosaurus. First specialized pterosaurs and sauropods. Ornithischians diversify.
- 190 Ma: Pliosaurs evolve, along with many groups of primitive sea invertebrates.
- 180 Ma: Pangaea splits into two major continents: Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south.
- 176 Ma: First stegosaurs.
- 170 Ma: First salamanders and newts evolve. Cynodonts go extinct.
- 165 Ma: First stingrays.
- 161 Ma: First ceratopsians.
- 155 Ma: First birds and triconodonts. Stegosaurs and theropods diversify.
- 145 ± 4 Ma: End of Jurassic and beginning of Cretaceous Period.
- 130 Ma: Laurasia and Gondwana begin to split apart as the Atlantic Ocean forms. First flowering plants.
- 115 Ma: First monotremes.
- 110 Ma: First hesperornithes.
- 106 Ma: Spinosaurus evolves.
- 100 Ma: First bees.
- 90 Ma: the Indian subcontinent splits from Gondwana, becoming an island continent. Ichthyosaurs go extinct. Snakes and ticks evolve.
- 80 Ma: Australia splits from Antarctica. First ants.
- 70 Ma: Multituberculates diversify.
- 68 Ma: Tyrannosaurus rex evolves.
- 66 ± 0.3 Ma: Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous Period marks the end of the Mesozoic era and the age of the dinosaurs; start of the Paleogene Period and the current Cenozoic era.
- 63 Ma: First creodonts.
- 60 Ma: Evolution of the first primates and miacids. Flightless birds diversify.
- 56 Ma: Gastornis evolves.
- 55 Ma: the island of the Indian subcontinent collides with Asia, thrusting up the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. Many modern bird groups appear. First whale ancestors. First rodents, lagomorphs, armadillos, sirenians, proboscideans, perissodactyls, artiodactyls, and mako sharks. Angiosperms diversify.
- 52 Ma: First bats.
- 50 Ma: Africa collides with Eurasia, closing the Tethys Sea. Divergence of cat and dog ancestors. Primates diversify. Brontotheres, tapirs, rhinos, and camels evolve.
- 49 Ma: Whales return to the water.
- 40 Ma: Age of the Catarrhini parvorder; first canines evolve. Lepidopteran insects become recognizable. Gastornis goes extinct. Basilosaurus evolves.
- 37 Ma: First Nimravids.
- 33.9 ± 0.1 Ma: End of Eocene, start of Oligocene epoch.
- 35 Ma: Grasslands first appear. Glyptodonts, ground sloths, peccaries, dogs, eagles, and hawks evolve.
- 34 Ma: Cats evolve.
- 33 Ma: First thylacinid marsupials evolve.
- 30 Ma: Brontotheres go extinct. Pigs evolve. South America separates from Antarctica, becoming an island continent.
- 28 Ma: Paraceratherium evolves.
- 26 Ma: Emergence of the first true elephants.
- 25 Ma: First deer.
- 23.03 ± 0.05 Ma: Neogene Period and Miocene epoch begin
- 20 Ma: Giraffes and giant anteaters evolve.
- 18-12 Ma: estimated age of the Hominidae/Hylobatidae (great apes vs. gibbons) split.
- 15 Ma: First mastodons, bovids, and kangaroos. Australian megafauna diversify.
- 10 Ma: Insects diversify. First large horses.
- 6.5 Ma: First members of the Hominini tribe.
- 6 Ma: Australopithecines diversify.
- 5.96 Ma - 5.33 Ma: Messinian Salinity Crisis: the precursor of the current Strait of Gibraltar closes repeatedly, leading to a partial desiccation and strong increase in salinity of the Mediterranean Sea.
- 5.4-6.3 Ma: Estimated age of the Homo/Pan (human vs. chimpanzee) split.
- 5.5 Ma: Appearance of the genus Ardipithecus
- 5.33 Ma: Zanclean flood: the Strait of Gibraltar opens for the last (and current) time and water from the Atlantic Sea fills again the Mediterranean Sea basin.
- 5.333 ± 0.005 Ma: Pliocene epoch begins. First tree sloths and hippopotami. First large vultures. Nimravids go extinct.
- 4.8 Ma: The mammoth appears.
- 4.5 Ma: appearance of the genus Australopithecus
- 3 Ma: Isthmus of Panama joins North and South America. Great American Interchange.
- 2.7 Ma: Paranthropus evolve.
- 2.6 Ma: current ice age begins
- 2.588 ± 0.005 Ma: start of the Pleistocene epoch, the Stone Age and the current Quaternary Period; emergence of the genus Homo. Smilodon, the best known of the sabre-toothed cats, appears.
- 1.8 Ma: Oldest known Homo erectus fossils. This species might be evolved some time before, up to 2 Ma ago.
- 1.7 Ma: Australopithecines go extinct.
- 1.5 Ma: earliest possible evidence of the controlled use of fire by Homo erectus
- 1.2 Ma: Homo antecessor evolves. Paranthropus dies out.
- 0.79 Ma: earliest demonstrable evidence of the controlled use of fire by Homo erectus
- 0.7 Ma: last reversal of the earth's magnetic field
- 0.64 Ma: Yellowstone caldera erupts
- 0.6 Ma: Homo heidelbergensis evolves.
- 0.5 Ma: colonisation of Eurasia by Homo erectus
- 0.35 Ma: Neanderthals evolve.
- 0.3 Ma: Approximate age of Canis lupus. Middle Stone Age begins in Africa.
- 0.2 Ma: Middle Paleolithic begins. Appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa
Etymology of period names
|Period||Started||Root word||Meaning||Reason for name|
|Siderian||2500 Ma||Greek sidēros||iron||ref. the banded iron formations|
|Rhyacian||2300 Ma||Gk. rhyax||lava flow||much lava flowed|
|Orosirian||2050 Ma||Gk. oroseira||mountain range||much orogeny in this period's latter half|
|Statherian||1800 Ma||Gk. statheros||steady||continents became stable cratons|
|Calymmian||1600 Ma||Gk. calymma||cover||platform covers developed or expanded|
|Ectasian||1400 Ma||Gk. ectasis||stretch||platform covers expanded|
|Stenian||1200 Ma||Gk. stenos||narrow||much orogeny, which survives as narrow metamorphic belts|
|Tonian||1000 Ma||Gk. tonos||stretch||The continental crust stretched as Rodinia broke up|
|Cryogenian||850 Ma||Gk. cryogenicos||cold-making||In this period all the Earth froze over|
|Ediacaran||635Ma||Ediacara Hills||place in Australia where the Ediacaran biota fossils were found|
|Cambrian||541Ma||Latin Cambria||Wales||ref. to the place in Great Britain where Cambrian rocks are best exposed|
|Ordovician||485.4 Ma||Celtic Ordovices||Tribe in north Wales, where the rocks were first identified|
|Silurian||443.4 Ma||Ctc. Silures||Tribe in south Wales, where the rocks were first identified|
|Devonian||419.2Ma||Devon||County in England in which rocks from this period were first identified|
|Carboniferous||358.9 Ma||Lt. carbo||coal||Global coal beds were laid in this period|
|Permian||298.9Ma||Perm Krai||Region in Russia where rocks from this period were first identified|
|Triassic||252.2 Ma||Lt. trias||triad||In Germany this period forms three distinct layers|
|Jurassic||201.3Ma||Jura Mountains||Mountain range in the Alps in which rocks from this period were first identified|
|Cretaceous||145Ma||Lt. creta||chalk||More chalk formed in this period than any other|
|Paleogene||66Ma||Gk. palaiogenos||"ancient born"|
|Neogene||23.03Ma||Gk. neogenos||"new born"|
|Quaternary||2.588 Ma||Lt. quaternarius||"fourth"||This was initially deemed the "fourth" period after the now-obsolete "primary", "secondary" and "tertiary" periods.|
- Amelin,Yuri, Alexander N. Krot, Ian D. Hutcheon, & Alexander A. Ulyanov (Sept 2002), "Lead Isotopic Ages of Chondrules and Calcium-Aluminum-Rich Inclusions" (Science, 6 September 2002: Vol. 297. no. 5587, pp. 1678 - 1683)
- According to isotopicAges, the Ca-Al-I's (= Ca-Al-rich inclusions) here formed in a proplyd (= protoplanetary disk]).
- Taylor, G. Jeffrey (2006), "Wandering Gas Giants and Lunar Bombardment: Outward migration of Saturn might have triggered a dramatic increase in the bombardment rate on the Moon 3.9 billion years ago, an idea testable with lunar samples" 
- Mojzis, S, et al. (1996), Evidence for Life on Earth before 3800 million years ago", (Nature, 384)
- Yoko Ohtomo, Takeshi Kakegawa, Akizumi Ishida, Toshiro Nagase, Minik T. Rosing (8 December 2013). "Evidence for biogenic graphite in early Archaean Isua metasedimentary rocks". Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo2025. Retrieved 9 Dec 2013.
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- Eriksson, P.G.; Catuneanu, Octavian; Nelson, D.R.; Mueller, W.U.; Altermann, Wladyslaw (2004), "Towards a Synthesis (Chapter 5)", in Eriksson, P.G.; Altermann, Wladyslaw; Nelson, D.R.; Mueller, W.U.; Catuneanu, Octavian, The Precambrian Earth: Tempos and Events, Developments in Precambrian Geology 12, Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier, pp. 739–769, ISBN 978-0-444-51506-3
- Brocks et al. (1999), "Archaean molecular fossils and the early rise of eukaryotes", (Science 285)
- Canfield, D (1999), "A Breath of Fresh Air" (Nature 400)
- Rye, E. and Holland, H. (1998), "Paleosols and the evolution of atmospheric oxygen", (Amer. Journ. of Science, 289)
- Cowan, G (1976), A natural fission reactor (Scientific American, 235)
- Bernstein H, Bernstein C (May 1989). "Bacteriophage T4 genetic homologies with bacteria and eucaryotes". J. Bacteriol. 171 (5): 2265–70. PMC 209897. PMID 2651395.
- Butterfield NJ. (2000). Bangiomorpha pubescens n. gen., n. sp.: implications for the evolution of sex, multicellularity and the Mesoproterozoic/Neoproterozoic radiation of eukaryotes. Paleobiology 26(3), 386-404. doi: 10.1666/0094-8373(2000)026<0386:BPNGNS>2.0.CO;2
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