Timeline of natural history

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Visual representation of the history of life on Earth as a spiral

This timeline of natural history summarizes significant geological and biological events from the formation of the Earth to the rise of modern humans. Times are listed in millions of years, or megaanni (Ma).

The earliest Solar System[edit]

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.

Hadean Eon[edit]

Main article: Hadean

Archean Eon[edit]

Main article: Archean

Eoarchean Era[edit]

Main article: Eoarchean

Paleoarchean Era[edit]

Mesoarchean Era[edit]

  • 3,200 Ma: Mesoarchean Era starts. Onverwacht series in South Africa form - contain some of the oldest microfossils mostly spheroidal and carbonaceous alga-like bodies.
  • 3,200–2,600 Ma: Assembly of the Ur supercontinent to cover between 12–16% of the current continental crust. Formation of Limpopo Belt.
  • 3,100 Ma: Fig Tree Formation: second round of fossilizations including Archaeosphaeroides barbertonensis and Eobacterium. Gneiss and greenstone belts in the Baltic Shield are laid down in Kola Peninsula, Karelia and northeastern Finland.
  • 3,000 Ma: Humboldt Orogeny in Antarctica: possible formation of Humboldt Mountains in Queen Maud Land. Photosynthesizing cyanobacteria evolve; they use water as a reducing agent, thereby producing oxygen as a waste product. The oxygen initially oxidizes dissolved iron in the oceans, creating iron ore - over time oxygen concentration in the atmosphere slowly rises, acting as a poison for many bacteria. As Moon is still very close to Earth and causes tides 1,000 feet (305 m) high, the Earth is continually wracked by hurricane-force winds - these extreme mixing influences are thought to stimulate evolutionary processes. Rise of Stromatolites: microbial mats become successful forming the first reef building communities on Earth in shallow warm tidal pool zones (to 1.5 Gyr). Tanzania Craton forms.
  • 2,940 Ma: Yilgarn Craton of western Australia forms by the accretion of a multitude of formerly present blocks or terranes of existing continental crust.
  • 2,900 Ma: Assembly of the Kenorland supercontinent, based upon the core of the Baltic shield, formed at 3100 Ma. Narryer Gniess Terrane (including Jack Hills) of Western Australia undergoes extensive metamorphism.

Neoarchean Era[edit]

  • 2,800 Ma: Neoarchean Era starts. Breakup of the Vaalbara: Breakup of supercontinent Ur as it becomes a part of the major supercontinent Kenorland. Kaapvaal and Zimbabwe cratons join together.
  • 2,770 Ma: Formation of Hamersley Basin on the southern margin of Pilbara Craton - last stable submarine-fluviatile environment between the Yilgarn and Pilbara prior to rifting, contraction and assembly of the intracratonic Gascoyne Complex.
  • 2,750 Ma: Renosterkoppies Greenstone Belt forms on the northern edge of the Kaapvaal Craton.
  • 2,736 Ma: Formation of the Temagami Greenstone Belt in Temagami, Ontario, Canada.
  • 2,707 Ma: Blake River Megacaldera Complex begins to form in present-day Ontario and Quebec - first known Precambrian supervolcano - first phase results in creation of 8km long, 40km wide, east-west striking Misema Caldera* - coalescence of at least two large mafic shield volcanoes.
  • 2,705 Ma: Major komatiite eruption, possibly global[11] - possible mantle overturn event.
  • 2,704 Ma: Blake River Megacaldera Complex: second phase results in creation of 30 km long, 15 km wide northwest-southeast trending New Senator Caldera - thick massive mafic sequences which has been inferred to be a subaqueous lava lake.
  • 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;[13] skewed sulfur isotope ratios found in pyrites show a small rise in oxygen concentration in the atmosphere;[14] Sturgeon Lake Caldera forms in Wabigoon greenstone belt — contains well preserved homoclinal chain of greenschist facies, metamorphosed intrusive, volcanic and sedimentary layers (Mattabi pyroclastic flow considered third most voluminous eruptive event); stromatolites of Bulawayo series in Zimbabwe form — first verified reef community on Earth.
  • 2,696 Ma: Blake River Megacaldera Complex: third phase of activity constructs classic east-northeast striking Noranda Caldera which contains a 7-to-9-km-thick succession of mafic and felsic rocks erupted during five major series of activity. Abitibi greenstone belt in present-day Ontario and Quebec begins to form: considered world's largest series of Archean greenstone belts, appears to represent a series of thrusted subterranes.
  • 2,690 Ma: Formation of high pressure granulites in the Limpopo Central Region.
  • 2,650 Ma: Insell Orogeny: occurrence of a very high grade discrete tectonothermal event (a UHT metamorphic event).
  • 2,600 Ma: Oldest known giant carbonate platform.[11] Saturation of oxygen in ocean sediments is reached as oxygen now begins to dramatically appear in Earth's atmosphere.

Proterozoic Eon[edit]

Main article: Proterozoic

Paleoproterozoic Era[edit]

Main article: Paleoproterozoic

Siderian Period[edit]

Rhyacian Period[edit]

  • 2,300 Ma: Rhyacian period starts.
  • 2,250 Ma: Bushveld Igneous Complex forms: world's largest reserves of platinum-group metals (platinum, palladium, osmium, iridium, rhodium and ruthenium) as well as vast quantities of iron, tin chromium titanium and vanadium appear - formation of Transvaal Basin begins
  • 2,200–1800 Ma: Continental Red Beds found, produced by iron in weathered sandstone being exposed to oxygen. Eburnean Orogeny, series of tectonic, metamorphic and plutonic events establish Eglab Shield to north of West African Craton and Man Shield to its south - Birimian domain of West Africa established and structured
  • 2,200 Ma: Iron content of ancient fossil soils shows an oxygen built up to 5–18% of current levels[15] End of Kenoran Orogeny: invasion of Superior and Slave Provinces by basaltic dikes and sills - Wyoming and Montana arm of Superior Province experiences intrusion of 5 km thick sheet of chromite-bearing gabbroic rock as Stillwater Complex forms
  • 2,100 Ma: Huronian glaciation ends. Earliest known eukaryote fossils found. Earliest multicellular organisms collectively referred to as the "Gabonionta" (Francevillian Group Fossil), Wopmay orogeny along western margin of Canadian Shield
  • 2,090 Ma: Eburnean Orogeny: Eglab Shield experiences syntectonic trondhjemitic pluton intrusion of its Chegga series - most of the intrusion is in the form of a plagioclase called oligoclase
  • 2.070 Ma: Eburnean Orogeny: asthenospheric upwelling releases large volume of post-orogenic magmas - magma events repeatedly reactivated from the Neoproterozoic to the Mesozoic

Orosirian Period[edit]

  • 2,050 Ma: Orosirian Period starts. Significant orogeny in most continents.
  • 2,023 Ma: Vredefort impact structure forms.
  • 2,005 Ma: Glenburgh Orogeny (2,005–1,920 Ma) begins: Glenburgh Terrane in western Australia begins to stabilize during period of substantial granite magmatism and deformation; Halfway Gneiss and Moogie Metamorphics result. Dalgaringa Supersuite (2,005–1,985 Ma), comprising sheets, dykes and viens of mesocratic and leucocratic tonalite, stabilizes.
  • 2,000 Ma: The lesser supercontinent Atlantica forms. The Oklo natural nuclear reactor of Gabon produced by uranium-precipitant bacteria.[16] First acritarchs.
  • 1,900 - 1,880 Ma: Gunflint chert biota forms flourishes including prokaryotes like Kakabekia, Gunflintia, Animikiea and Eoastrion
  • 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.[17]
  • 1,830 Ma: Capricorn Orogeny (1.83 - 1.78 Gyr) stabilizes central and northern Gascoyne Complex: formation of pelitic and psammitic schists known as Morrissey Metamorphics and depositing Pooranoo Metamophics an amphibolite facies

Statherian Period[edit]

  • 1,800 Ma: Statherian Period starts. Supercontinent Columbia forms, one of whose fragments being Nena. Oldest ergs develop on several cratons[11] Barramundi Orogeny (ca. 1.8 Gyr) influences MacArthur Basin in Northern Australia.
  • 1,780 Ma Colorado Orogeny (1.78 - 1.65 Gyr) influences southern margin of Wyoming craton - collision of Colorado orogen and Trans-Hudson orogen with stabilized Archean craton structure
  • 1,770 Ma Big Sky Orogeny (1.77 Gyr) influences southwest Montana: collision between Hearne and Wyoming cratons
  • 1,765 Ma As Kimban Orogeny in Australian continent slows, Yapungku Orogeny (1.765 Gyr) begins effecting Yilgarn craton in Western Australia - possible formation of Darling Fault, one of longest and most significant in Australia
  • 1,760 Ma Yavapai Orogeny (1.76 - 1.7 Gyr) impacts mid to south western United States
  • 1.750 Ma Gothian Orogeny (1.75 - 1.5 Gyr): formation of tonalitic-granodioritic plutonic rocks and calc-alkaline volcanites in the East European Craton
  • 1,700 Ma Stabilization of second major continental mass, the Guiana Shield in South America
  • 1,680 Ma Mangaroon Orogeny (1.68 - 1.62 Gyr), on the Gascoyne Complex in Western Australia: Durlacher Supersuite, granite intrusion featuring a northern (Minnie Creek) and southern belt - heavily sheared orthoclase porphyroclastic granites
  • 1.650 Ma Kararan Orogeny (1.65 Gyr) uplifts great mountains on the Gawler Craton in Southern Australia - formation of Gawler Range including picturesque Conical Hill Track and "Organ Pipes" waterfall

Mesoproterozoic Era[edit]

Main article: Mesoproterozoic

Calymmian Period[edit]

  • 1,600 Ma: Mesoproterozoic Era and Calymmian Period start. Platform covers expand. Major orogenic event in Australia: Isan Orogeny (1,600 Ma) influences Mount Isa Block of Queensland - major deposits of lead, silver, copper and zinc are laid down. Mazatzal Orogeny (1,600 Ma - 1,300 Ma) influences mid to south western United States: Precambrian rocks of the Grand Canyon, Vishnu Schist and Grand Canyon Series, are formed establishing basement of Canyon with metamorphosed gniesses that are invaded by granites
  • 1,500 Ma: Supercontinent Columbia collapses: associated with continental rifting along western margin of Laurentia, eastern India, southern Baltica, southeastern Siberia, northwestern South Africa and North China Block - formation of Ghats Province in India First structurally complex eukaryotes (Hododyskia, colonial formamiferian).

Ectasian Period[edit]

  • 1,400 Ma: Ectasian Period starts. Platform covers expand. Major increase in Stromatolite diversity with widespread blue-green algae colonies and reefs dominating tidal zones of oceans and seas
  • 1,300 Ma: Break-up of Columbia Supercontinent completed: widespread anorogenic magmatic activity, forming anorthosite-mangerite-charnockite-granite suites in North America, Baltica, Amazonia and North China - stabilization of Amazonian Craton in South America Grenville orogeny(1,300 - 1,000 Ma) in North America: globally associated with assembly of Supercontinent Rodinia establishes Grenville Province in Eastern North America - folded mountains from Newfoundland to North Carolina as Old Rag Mountain forms
  • 1,270 Ma Emplacement of Mackenzie granite mafic dike swarm - one of three dozen dike swarms, forms into Mackenzie Large Igneous Province - formation of Copper Creek deposits
  • 1,250 Ma Sveconorwegian Orogeny (1,250 Ma - 900 Ma) begins: essentially a reworking of previously formed crust on the Baltic Shield
  • 1,240 Ma Second major dike swarm, Sudbury dikes form in Northeastern Ontario around the area of the Sudbury Basin

Stenian Period[edit]

  • 1,200 Ma: Stenian Period starts. Red alga Bangiomorpha pubescens, earliest fossil evidence for sexually reproducing organism.[18] Meiosis and sexual reproduction are present in single-celled eukaryotes, and possibly in the common ancestor of all eukaryotes.[19] Supercontinent of Rodinia(1.2 Gyr - 750 Myr) completed: consisting of North American, East European, Amazonian, West African, Eastern Antarctica, Australia and China blocks, largest global system yet formed - surrounded by superocean Mirovia
  • 1,100 Ma: First dinoflagellate evolve: photosynthetic some develop mixotrophic habits ingesting prey - with their appearance, prey-predator relationship is established for first time forcing acritarchs to defensive strategies and leading to open "arms" race. Late Ruker (1.1 - 1 Gyr) and Nimrod Orogenies (1.1 Gyr) in Antarctica possibly begins: formation of Gamburtsev mountain range and Vostok Subglacial Highlands. Keweenawan Rift buckles in the south-central part of the North American plate - leaves behind thick layers of rock that are exposed in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska and creates rift valley where future Lake Superior develops.
  • 1.080 Ma: Musgrave Orogeny (ca. 1.080 Gyr) forms Musgrave Block, an east-west trending belt of granulite-gneiss basement rocks - voluminous Kulgera Suite of granite and Birksgate Complex solidify
  • 1.076 Ma: Musgrave Orogeny: Warakurna large igneous province develops - intrusion of Giles Complex and Winburn Suite of granites and deposition of Bentley Supergroup (including Tollu and Smoke Hill Volcanics)

Neoproterozoic Era[edit]

Main article: Neoproterozoic

Tonian Period[edit]

  • 1,000 Ma: Neoproterozoic Era and Tonian Period start. Grenville orogeny ends. First radiation of dinoflagellates and spiny acritarchs - increase in defensive systems indicate that acritarchs are responding to carnivorous habits of dinoflagellates - decline in stromatolite reef populations begins. Rodinia starts to break up. First vaucherian algae. Rayner Orogeny as proto-India and Antarctica collide (to 900 Ma.) Trace fossils of colonial Hododyskia (1500 Ma - 900 Ma): possible divergence between animal and plant kingdoms begins. Stabilization of Satpura Province in Northern India. Rayner Orogeny (1 Gyr - 900 Myr) as India and Antarctica collide
  • 920 Ma: Edmundian Orogeny (ca. 920 - 850 Myr) redefines Gascoyne Complex: consists of reactivation of earlier formed faults in the Gascoyne - folding and faulting of overlying Edmund and Collier basins
  • 920 Ma: Adelaide Geosyncline laid down in central Australia - essentially a rift complex, consists of thick layer of sedimentary rock and minor volcanics deposited on easter margin - limestones, shales and sandstones predominate
  • 900 Ma: Bitter Springs Formation of Australia: in addition to prokaryote assemblage of fossils, cherts include eukaryotes with ghostly internal structures similar to green algae - first appearance of Glenobotrydion (900 - 720 Myr), among earliest plants on Earth

Cryogenian Period[edit]

  • 850 Ma: Cryogenian Period starts, during which Earth freezes over (Snowball Earth or Slushball Earth) at least 3 times. Rift develops on Rodinia between continental masses of Australia, eastern Antarctica, India, Congo and Kalahari on one side and Laurentia, Baltica, Amazonia, West African and Rio de la Plata cratons on other - formation of Adamastor Ocean.
  • 800 Ma: With free oxygen levels much higher, carbon cycle is disrupted and once again glaciation becomes severe - beginning of second "snowball Earth" event
  • 750 Ma: First Proterozoa appears: as creaturs like Paramecium, Amoeba and Melanocyrillium evolve, first animal-like cells become distinctive from plants - rise of herbivores (plant feeders) in the food chain. First Sponge-like animal: similar to early colonial foraminiferan Horodyskia, earliest ancestors of Sponges were colonial cells that circulated food sources using flagella to their gullet to be digested. Kaigas glaciation (ca. 750 Ma): first major glaciation of Earth - almost entire planet is covered with ice sheets up to more than a kilometer thick and identified from units in Namibia and the South China Block
  • 720 Ma: Sturtian glaciation continues process begun during Kaigas - great ice sheets cover most of the planet stunting evolutionary development of animal and plant life - survival based on small pockets of heat under the ice
  • 700 Ma: Fossils of testate Amoeba first appear: first complex metazoans leave unconfirmed biomarkers - they introduce new complex body plan architecture which allows for development of complex internal and external structures. Worm trail impressions in China: because putative "burrows" under stromatolite mounds are of uneven width and tapering makes biological origin difficult to defend - structures imply simple feeding behaviours. Rifting of Rodinia is completed: formation of new superocean of Panthalassa as previous Mirovia ocean bed closes - Mozambique mobile belt develops as a suture between plates on Congo-Tanzania craton
  • 660 Ma As Sturtian glaciers retreat, Cadomian orogeny (660 - 540 Myr) begins on north coast of Armorica: involving one or more collisions of island arcs on margin of future Gondwana, terranes of Avalonia, Armorica and Ibera are laid down
  • 650 Ma First Demosponges appear: form first skeletons of spicules made from protein spongin and silica - brightly coloured these colonial creatures filter feed since they lack nervous, digestive or circulatory systems and reproduce both sexually and asexually
  • 650 Ma: Final period of worldwide glaciation, Marinoan (650 - 635 Myr) begins: most significant "snowball Earth" event, global in scope and longer - evidence from Diamictite deposits in South Australia laid down on Adelaide Geosyncline

Ediacaran Period[edit]

  • 635 Ma: Ediacaran period begins. End of Marinoan Glaciation: last major "snowball Earth" event as future ice ages will feature less overall ice coverage of the planet
  • 633 Ma: Beardmore Orogeny (633 - 620 Ma) in Antarctica: reflection of final break-up of Rodinia as pieces of the supercontinent begin moving together again to form Pannotia
  • 620 Ma: Timanide Orogeny (620 - 550 Ma) affects northern Baltic Shield: gneiss province divided into several north-south trending segments experiences numerous metasedimentary and metavolcanic deposits - last major orogenic event of Precambrian
  • 600 Ma: Pan-African Orogeny (600 Ma) begins: Arabian-Nubian Shield formed between plates separating supercontinent fragments Gondwana and Pannotia - Supercontinent Pannotia (600 - 500 Ma) completed, bordered by Iapetus and Panthalassa oceans. Accumulation of atmospheric oxygen allows for the formation of ozone layer: prior to this, land-based life would probably have required other chemicals to attenuate ultraviolet radiation enough to permit colonization of the land
  • 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.

Phanerozoic Eon[edit]

Main article: Phanerozoic

Paleozoic Era[edit]

Main article: Paleozoic

Cambrian Period[edit]

Ordovician Period[edit]

Silurian Period[edit]

  • 443.8 ± 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.

Devonian Period[edit]

Carboniferous Period[edit]

Permian Period[edit]

Mesozoic Era[edit]

Main article: Mesozoic

Triassic Period[edit]

Jurassic Period[edit]

Cretaceous Period[edit]

Cenozoic Era[edit]

Main article: Cenozoic

Paleogene Period[edit]

Neogene Period[edit]

Quaternary Period[edit]

For later events, see Timeline of human prehistory.

Etymology of period names[edit]

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 stony ground 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 443.8 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 252.17 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 2.58 Ma Lt. quaternarius "fourth" This was initially deemed the "fourth" period after the now-obsolete "primary", "secondary" and "tertiary" periods.


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See also[edit]