Dinosaur Isle - Discover Experience Encounter
Upper Greensand at Gore Cliff

Earth's Timeline

Earths' timeline

The Earth's crust, oceans and atmosphere have evolved over an enormous timescale. Geologists (scientists who study the earth) have broken this timescale up into a number of boxes that are usually represented by specific types of rocks or fossils.  Names have been given to each of these boxes; and increasingly accurate ages are given to their boundaries.

Some of the boxes are named after places where the rocks were studied in detail (eg the Devonian after Devon).  Because the world's surface plates are constantly moving, albeit very slowly, the rocks vary at different times.  For example the Devonian sandstones of England represent a time when southern England was in the southern latitudes, near the area occupied by the Namibian deserts today.  The Carboniferous rocks in England include coals deposited by vast forests when England lay on the Equator, and the Permian sandstones when we were at the latitude of the western Sahara.  During the Jurassic we were crossing the latitude of the Mediterranean and moving north through where Spain is now.  During the Cretaceous and Palaeogene we were moving through northern Spain and modern France to our current position. Our northward movement has now slowed right down and we have changed direction - moving eastwards, while North America is moving to the west.

We have included information on this webpage which describes the overall scheme and where the Isle of Wight fits into the global timescale. The time zones have been put into table form so that we can update them as more accurate techniques and data become available.

Some significant events for life have also been added - the times of arrival of whole new groups of organism, and the timing of major extinctions.

The stratigraphic dates below were published in May 2019 by the International Commission on Stratigraphy.

Stratigraphic table and dates

Eon: Phanerozic - 542 million years to the present
Era:Period:Starting age
CaenozoicQuaternary2.58 Ma
Neogene23.03 Ma
Palaeogene66.0 Ma
MesozoicCretaceous~145.0 Ma
Jurassic201.3 +/- 0.2 Ma
Triassic251.902 +/- 0.024 Ma
PalaeozoicPermian298.9 +/- 0.15 Ma
Carboniferous358.9 +/- 0.4 Ma
Devonian419.2 +/- 3.2 Ma
Silurian443.8 +/- 1.5 Ma
Ordovician485.4 +/- 1.9 Ma
Cambrian541.0 +/- 1.0 Ma

Eon: Proterozoic - 2500 million years to 542 million years
Era:Period:Starting age
NeoproterozoicEdiacaran~635 Ma
Cryogenian720 Ma
Tonian1000 Ma
MesoproterozoicStenian1200 Ma
Ectasian1400 Ma
Calymmian1600 Ma
PalaeoproterozoicStatherian1800 Ma
Orosirian2050 Ma
Rhyacian2300 Ma
Siderian2500 Ma

Eon: Archaen - 4000 million years to 2500 million years
Era:Period:Starting age
Neoarchean2800 Ma
Mesoarchean3200 Ma
Palaeoarchaen3600 Ma
Eoarchaen4000 Ma

Eon: Hadean (informal)  - 4600 million years to 4000 million years
Era:Period:Starting age
To be determined~4600 Ma

Dates published in May 2019 by the International Commission on Stratigraphy.
(Ma = Mega annum - 'million years' ago).
The Proterozoic and Archaean are sometimes referred together as the 'Precambrian'.

Approximate first appearance of new types of organism

OrganismTime zoneapprox date
GrassesOligocene30 Ma
BeesCretaceous100 Ma
Flowering plantsCretaceous135 Ma
Bird-type dinosaursLate Jurassic150 Ma
MammalsTriassic220 Ma
DinosaursTriassic228 Ma
FernsCarboniferous300 Ma
ConifersCarboniferous300 Ma
ReptilesCarboniferous310 Ma
Land vertebratesDevonian380 Ma
InsectsDevonian400 Ma
Vertebrates with jawsDevonian410 Ma
Land plants, FungiSilurian450 Ma
Jawless vertebratesOrdovician470 Ma
CrustaceansCambrian530 Ma
MolluscsCambrian530 Ma
WormsCambrian540 Ma
Echinoderms (starfish etc), Sponges
and Coelenterates (jellyfish etc)
Cambrian540 Ma
Unicellular animalsNeoproterozoic700 Ma
AlgaePalaeoproterozoic2,100 Ma
BacteriaPalaeoarchaen3,600 Ma


OrganismTypeTime zoneApprox date
DodoFlightless birdHolocene

Last survivor reported 1681

Dwarf mammoth
(Wrangel Island, Russian arctic)
Large mammalHolocene6,360 years ago
(N. America)
Large mammalHolocene10,000 years ago
AmmonoidsMarine animalEnd Cretaceous65 Ma
BelemnitesMarine animalEnd Cretaceous65 Ma
DinosaursLand animalEnd Cretaceous65 Ma
Rudist & Trigoniid bivalvesMarine molluscEnd Cretaceous65 Ma
PlesiosaursMarine reptileEnd Cretaceous65 Ma
PterosaursFlying reptileEnd Cretaceous65 Ma
Hybodont sharksMarine animalEnd Cretaceous65 Ma
Ichthyosaurs'fish lizard' - marine reptileUpper Cretaceous95 Ma
TrilobitesMarine animalPermian
PlacodermiaArmoured fishEnd Carboniferous
Ancient fernsLand plantUpper Carboniferous
GraptolitesMarine animalUpper Carboniferous

Rocks and fossils of the Isle of Wight

Era:Period:Epoch:Rock Groups:Approx ageTypical fossils
CaenozoicQuaternaryPleistocene?Bison, elephant
PalaeogeneOligoceneSolent34-31 MaPlants, Birds
EoceneSolent38-34 MaMolluscs, mammals
EoceneBarton-38 MaMolluscs
EoceneThames54-51 MaShark teeth, molluscs
PalaeoceneLambeth56-55 Ma
MesozoicCretaceous (K)Upper KWhite Chalk93.5-68 MaAmmonites, belemnites, sea-urchins, shark teeth, sponges
Upper KGrey Chalk99-93.5 MaAmmonites, sea-urchins, sponges
Lower KUpper Greensand105-99 MaAmmonites, sponges, sharks, molluscs
Lower KLower Greensand120-Ammonites, lobsters, oysters
Lower KWealden126-120 MaDinosaur bone and footprints!, crocodile, fish, turtle, pterosaur, bivalves, gastropods, ostracods


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