Geologic Time Table

The development of life on Earth

By Dr J Floor Anthoni (2004)
This extensive time table follows the development of Earth from the moment of the Big Bang until today. Where the geometry of Earth was known, also world maps are shown.

To follow the history of the Earth and its life forms, start at the bottom of the last table. For successful printing, set  the left and right margins in your page settings to minimal, e.g left 0.5 cm (0.2").
Information from various sources. Maps adapted from Stephen Jay Gould The Book of Life, 1993.


Cenozoic - Quaternary
10kya till present
AD 1350-1800 Little Ice Age. since then a warming trend. Major habitat changes and deforestations caused by humans. A major extinction wave due to introduced pests and habitat destruction.
The last major ice age ends and the sea level rises by 80-110m worldwide, causing new continental margins, dunes and beaches. Climate still fluctuates in ten little ice ages. Humans spread across America and all islands. Major extinctions of large animals and birds due to humans.
1.6-0.01 Mya
Climate fluctuating cold to mild . The era of ice ages. Numerous glacial advances and retreats; fiords formed. Uplift of the Sierra Nevada; deserts on large scale; Sahara formed. Ten major ice ages of 100ky each between 1Mya and 100kya. Last ice age from 100kya to 10kya. Planetary spread of Homo Sapiens over Eurasia; extinction of many species due to the ice ages; extinction of many large mammals and birds due to humans. world as at today
Cenozoic - Tertiary
66.4-1.6 Mya
5-2 Mya
Cooler climate; continued uplift and mountain building, with widespread glaciation in Northern Hemisphere. Uplift of Panama joins North and South America.Large carnivores. First known appearance of hominids (humanlike primates) .
25-5 Mya
Moderate climate; extensive glaciation begins again in Southern Hemisphere. Moderate uplift of Rocky Mountains. Whales, apes, grazing mammals. Spread of grasslands as forests contract. .
38-25 Mya
Rise of Alps and Himalayas. Lands generally low. Volcanoes in Rocky Mountains. South America separates from Antarctica. Forests decline to make way for grasslands. Large browsing animals; monkey-like primates appear. Fish: eel, barracuda, seahorse, cod, trout. Reptiles: turtles, tortoises, lizards, snakes, crocodiles. Birds: flightless and flying. Origin of many modern families of flowering plants. .
55-38 Mya
Mild to very tropical climate. Many lakes in western North America. Australia separates from Antarctica; India collides with Asia. Primitive horses, tiny camels, marsupials; modern and giant types of bird. Most groups now well formed; barnacles, oysters, cuttlefish, crabs, sponges, freshwater snails. Formation of grasslands. .
65-55 Mya
Mild to cool climate. Wide, shallow continental seas largely disappear.First known primitive primates and mammal carnivores. .world 66 Mya
65 Mya Mass extinctions
245-66.4 Mya 
144-66.4 Mya
Tropical to subtropical climate. Elevation of Rocky Mountains at end of period. Africa and South America separate. In warm, shallow seas, vast layers of chalk laid down by marine organisms.  Birds well developed. Marsupials, insectivores and flowering plants become abundant. At end of period extinction of dinosaurs, belemnites, ammonites and most cycads. Fish survived, mammals and some reptiles. Angiosperms dominate the land flora, colonise most land and diversify. .
208-144 Mya
Mild climate. Continents low, with large areas covered by seas. Mountains rise from Alaska to Mexico. Dinosaurs' zenith. Flying reptiles, small mammals and birds appear. Many ammonites and other mollusks dominate the sea. Gymnosperms, especially cycads and ferns. First flowering plants (angiosperms). .world 175 Mya
208 Mya Mass extinctions
245-208 Mya
At first, deserts stretched out over most of the land, slowly giving way to a mild, moist climate with great areas of forested plains. Continents mountainous and joined in one mass. Large areas arid. Eruptions in eastern North America. Appalachians uplifted and broken into basins. The age of dinosaurs, on land, in the sea and in between. Amphibians in fresh water, retreating. Primitive mammals appear. Forests of gymnosperms and ferns. .world 225 Mya
248 Mya Mass extinctions
540-245 Mya 
286-245 Mya
Extremely violent climate changes: deserts, swamps, ice. Extensive glaciation in Southern Hemisphere. Seas drain from land; worldwide aridity. Urals formed. Appalachians formed by end of Paleozoic. Large amphibians. Reptiles diversify. Bugs and beetles (metamorphosis). Age of the seed plants. Origin of conifers, cycads and ginkgos; possible origin of flowering plants; earlier forest types wane. At end of period extinctions of many groups: trilobites, eurypterids, many kinds of corals, bryozoa, sea lilies, brachiopods. Early fishes (placoderms) and many kinds of shark disappeared. .world 265 Mya
360-286 Mya
Slower earth movements. Seabeds began to rise. Climate warm; conditions like those in subtropical zones; little seasonal variation, water plentiful. Lands low, covered by shallow seas or great coal swamps. Mountain building in eastern US, Texas, Colorado. Age of amphibians. First reptiles, cotylosaurs. Variety of insects. Sharks abundant. Great swamps; forests of ferns, gymnosperms (naked seed plants) and horsetails. .world 325 Mya
367 Mya Mass extinctions
408-360 Mya
Violent change in the Earth's landscape by volcanic activity and crustal movements, folding and mountain forming. Europe mountainous with arid basins. Mountains and volcanoes in eastern US and Canada. Rest of north America low and flat. Sea covers most of land. Climate became drier. Age of fishes. Sharks, rays. Fishes move into the open seas. Lunged fishes (paddle-fins). Amphibians appear. Mollusks abundant.  Extinction of primitive vascular plants. Origin of modern groups of vascular plants with true leaves, roots and stems (liverworts). The Earth started to look green. Some plants started to produce seeds, rather than spores. .world 385 Mya
438-408 Mya
Mild climate. Continents generally flat; again flooded. Mountain building in Europe. Rise of fishes (placoderms) and reef building corals. Shell-forming sea animals abundant. Sea lilies (stalked crinoids), eurypterids, land scorpions. Invasion of land by arthropods. Earliest vascular plants (psilopsids, lycophytes). Modern groups of algae and fungi. .
438 Mya Mass extinctions
505-438 Mya
Mild climate. Shallow seas; retreating from land and spreading back; teeming with life. continents low; sea covers US. Limestone deposits. All plants and animals still restricted to the water. Agnatha (no jaw fishes, first vertebrates). First primitive fishes (ostracoderms, vertebrates). Invertebrates dominant. Crustaceans, trilobites, graptolites, brachiopods, bryozoa, echinoderms, corals, mollusks, cephalopods. First fungi. Possible invasions of land by plants. .world 475 Mya
540-505 Mya
Mild climate; extensive seas, spilling over continents. Shelled marine invertebrates. Explosive diversification of eukaryotic organisms. swimming, floating, crawling, clinging, burrowing sea animals. Trilobites, brachiopods, radiolarians, sponges, echinoderms,starfish, seacucumbers, jellyfish, worms, eurypterids (water scorpions). Plants only as algae. .world 530 Mya
3960-590 Mya 
2500-540 Mya 
Dry and cold climate to warm and moist.  Eukaryotic cells and multicellularity by close of era. Earliest known fossils, including soft-bodied marine invertebrates. .
3960-2500 Mya
Extensive mountain building. Shallow seas. Accumulation of free oxygen. Origin of life. Prokaryotes, bacteria, blue-green algae. .
4500-3960 Mya 
Planet forms from accumulation of cosmic dust and from meteorite impacts. These impacts and the heat caused by compression, melt the interior of the planet. The heat melts the Earth's interior to enable heavy elements to migrate to its centre, while light elements migrate to its crust. 4400 Mya the liquid core with the mantle appeared. Planet cools. Formation of Earth's crust (4200 Mya). Extensive volcanic activity prevents life from forming. . .
Formation of universe
15 - 4.5 Gya
sun's planets
4560 Mya
. .
sun and solar system
5000 Mya
Universe is 2/3 its present size. From a left-over dust cloud originating from a supernova explosion, the sun forms, attracting most of the material. But rotational momentum has kept enough debris in space to form the planets. The sun's interior heats to 15 million degrees, hot enough for nuclear fusion: protons fuse into helium .
Unknown period The exact age of the universe is not known (15 to 9 Gya). Below this line, all time is relative to the Big Bang; above it, time is relative to the present.
first galaxies
1000 My
Universe has expanded to 1/5 its present size. Nuclear reactions inside stars (supernovas) have made most of the heavy elements from which terrestrial planets are made and the elements necessary for life. The Milky Way, our glaxy, was formed 10,000 Mya. The universe cools further to 3ºK, its temperature today. .
Universe becomes transparent 300,000 y Matter clusters into ever larger units. Stars are formed. The universe becomes transparent. Its radiation, the backround radiation, is still observable today. .
The hot universe
Matter/radiation soup
0 - 0.01 s
Formation of nucleotides
10-5 to 10-2 s
All forms of particles are formed: neutrons, protons, electrons, etc. The universe expands to 1/1000 present size, temperature cools to 3000ºK. The light elements hydrogen and helium are formed. .
Moment of 
inflation 10-12
The universe has cooled to 1015 degrees, being a soup of matter (quarks) and radiation, a dense plasma gas under very high pressure. As the universe continues to expand, it cools further and matter wins over antimatter. The universe inflates rapidly to almost  1/1000 present size. .
Moment of infinite 
temperature 0-10-12 s
The very moment of the big bang is shrouded in mystery because scientists believe that conventional physics won't apply at the very high temperatures in excess of a million billon degrees 1015ºC. Electromagnetic radiation and matter are indistinguishable. .

Note: Mya = million years ago. Gya = billion years ago. kya= thousand years ago.

Fisher, James & Sir Julian Huxley: Nature, earth, plants, animals. 1960. MacDonald & Co
Geological Society of America
Scientific American special issue Life in the Universe,  Oct 1994. Contributions by: Steven Weinberg, P James E Peebles, Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Marvin Minsky and others.
Hawking, Stephen W: A brief history of time, from the Big Bang to black holes. 1989 Bantam Books.
Stephen Jay Gould The Book of Life, 1993.

Geologists use a finer division of eras, periods, epochs and ages as shown below. Note that the starting and ending ages have some uncertainty, increasing towards earlier times. A typical error of 0.2 to 1% should be expected.

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