Links to our Past

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Insight for the Future
Alfred R. Wallace
Linnean Society of London

The Fossil Record of Life

Note: Authorities differ as to precise time boundaries between geologic periods.
Eon Era Period Epoch

While this page is about paleontology and fossils, it is also inseparably connected to geology and plate tectonics. It is impossible to understand the stratigraphic and geographic distribution of ancient life on this planet without having at least a basic knowledge of these subjects. In addition, an understanding of radiometric dating is also beneficial, although you will not have to learn much about chemistry and physics to achieve that understanding.

This page is divided into two rather long sections. The first section lists all the geologic periods from most recent to most ancient. Wherever possible a series of maps is presented showing the size and position of land areas during each period. Also a small list of links is given for a description of the period and for museum and fossil exhibits related to it.

The second section of this page contains a dozen or more broad topics within paleontology with a variety of links to help you explore each subject area. Those links will in turn offer you additional sources of data. A great deal about the fossil record of life is available online to help you learn. But I urge you to read a couple of books and a journal or two and, if possible, to take an introductory course in paleontology. Most colleges and universities offer them, and you can find online course material on this page. This is an exciting time in paleontology. New fossils are being reported almost daily and old, troublesome gaps in the fossil record are rapidly being filled. If you are really interested in being up-to-date subscribe to a paleontological news service.

Cenozoic Era � 65 Million Years Before Present (mybp) to Today
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Fossil Horses in Cyberspace : Univ. of Florida (see also Horse Transitionals)
Paleontology: the Cenozoic : Excellent web directory
The Age of Mammals : A Hypertext Book

Quaternary Period � 1.8 mybp to today     Includes Holocene and Pleistocene
Earth Sciences: Quaternary Studies : Excellent web reference directory
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Paleontological Museum of Oslo

Holocene Epoch � 11,000 ybp to today
MAPS:     Present Globe   |   Modern World Map

Pleistocene Epoch � 1.8 mybp to 11,000 ybp
MAPS:     Last Ice Age Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Pleistocene Animals : Illinois State Museum
Study Guides : Fossils of Rancho La Brea (Los Angeles Tar Pits)
Dino-to-Birds : Bird feathers and fossils.
Whale Transitionals : The marvelous whale fossil series.
Hominid Fossil Series : The road to humans.

Tertiary Period � 65 to 1.8 mybp     Includes Neogene and Paleogene subperiods
Paleontological Museum of Oslo

Neogene subperiod � 24 to 1.8 mybp     Includes Pliocene and Miocene
Neogene Period Description and Neogene Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.

Pliocene Epoch � 5 to 1.8 mybp
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley

Miocene Epoch � 24 to 5 mybp
MAPS:     Miocene Globe   |   Scotese Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley

Paleogene subperiod � 65 to 24 mybp     Includes Oligocene, Eocene and Paleocene
Paleogene subperiod description and Paleogene Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.

Oligocene Epoch � 35 to 24 mybp
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley

Eocene Epoch � 57 to 35 mybp
MAPS:     Eocene Globe   |   Scotese Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Eocene Fossils : Coleoptera, Diptera and Flora
Tiniest Primate Discovered : They lived in China 45 mybp.
Whale Transitionals : Major period of whale transition.

Paleocene � 65 to 57 mybp

Mesozoic Era � 251 to 65 mybp     Includes Cretaceous, Jurassic and Triassic
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Willo, the Dinosaur with a Heart : North Carolina State University
Paleontology: the Mesozoic : Web Directory
The Solnhofen Limestone of Germany : Univ. Calif. at Berkeley

Cretaceous Period � 144 to 65 mybp
MAPS:   Early Cretaceous Globe   |   Late Cretaceous Globe   |   Scotese World Map   |   K/T Boundary Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinctions : Geology 105, History of Life
Paleontological Museum of Oslo
Oceans of Kansas Paleontology
Cretaceous Period Described and Cretaceous Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.

Jurassic Period � 206 to 144 mybp
MAPS:   Late Jurassic Globe   |   Middle J. Globe   |   Early J. Globe   |   Early Jurassic Map   |   Late Jurassic Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Paleontological Museum of Oslo
Archaeopteryx : Univ. of Calif. at Berkeley
Jurassic Period Described and Jurassic Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.
Rare Dino Tracks : Tracksite found In Northern Wyoming, dates to 167 mybp.

< name=Tria> Triassic Period � 251 to 206 mybp
MAPS:   Triassic Globe   |   Scotese Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Paleontological Museum of Oslo
Triassic Period Described and Triassic Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.

Paleozoic Era � 543 to 251 mybp     Includes Permian through Cambrian
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Paleontology: Paleozoic : Web Directory

Permian Period � 300 to 251 mybp
MAPS:   Permian Globe   |   Scotese Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Paleontological Museum of Oslo
Permian Period Described and Permian Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.
The Permian Extinction : About 90 percent of all species vanished. See extinction links at bottom of page.
Organisms Present in the Permian. : Also see Permian Extinction - Introduction.

Carboniferous Period � 354 to 300 mybp     Pennsylvanian & Mississippian subperiods
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Paleontological Museum of Oslo

Pennsylvanian subperiod � 320 to 300 mybp
MAPS:   Pennsylvanian Globe   |   Scotese Map

Mazon Creek Fossils and Deposits : Illinois State Museum
Pennsylvanian Period Described and Pennsylvanian Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.

Mississippian subperiod � 354 to 320 mybp
MAPS:   Mississippian Globe   |   Scotese Map

Mississippian Period Described and Mississippian Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.

Devonian Perod � 409 to 354 mybp
MAPS:   Early Devonian Globe   |   Late Devonian Globe   |   Scotese Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Fossils in Scotland : University of Aberdeen.
Paleontological Museum of Oslo
Devonian Period Described and Devonian Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.

Silurian Period � 439 to 409 mybp
MAPS:   Silurian Globe   |   Scotese Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Fossils in Scotland : University of Aberdeen.
Virtual Silurian Reef : Milwaukee Public Museum
Paleontological Museum of Oslo
Silurian Period Described and Silurian Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.
The Silurian Eurypterid Fauna: Pittsford, Western New York.

Ordovician Period � 510 to 439 mybp
MAPS:   Early Ordovician Globe   |   Late Ordovician Globe   |   Scotese Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Paleontological Museum of Oslo
Ordovician Period Described and Ordovician Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.

Cambrian Period � 543 to 510 mybp
MAPS:   Early Cambrian Globe   |   Late Cambrian Globe   |   Scotese Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Paleontological Museum of Oslo
Cambrian Period Described and Cambrian Fossils : Humboldt St. Univ.

Tommotian � 530 to 527 mybp
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley

Precambrian Time � 4556 to 543
MAPS:    Scotese Map

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Paleontological Museum of Oslo

Proterozoic Eon � 2500 to 543 mybp     Includes Neo, Meso and Paleo Proterozoics
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
The Dawn of Animal Life Exhibit : Miller Museum, Ontario
Eukaryotic Cells : Single and multi-cell beginnings
NMNH Virtual Tour - Early Life: National Museum of Natural History

Neoproterozoic � 900 to 544 mybp     Includes Vendian/Ediacaran

Vendian/Ediacaran � 650 to 544 mybp
Museum of Paleontology : Univ. of Calif. at Berkeley
Vendian Animals : Univ. of Calif. at Berkeley

Mesoproterozoic � 1600 to 900 mybp

Paleoproterozoic � 2500 to 1600 mybp

Archaean Eon � 3800 to 2500

Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley
Earth's Beginnings and Archean Life : Miller Museum, Ontario
Meteorite Changed Earth's History 3.4 Billion Years Ago
Oldest ever fossils found : The bacterial creatures, which resemble "pond slime," were found in Northwest Australia and are estimated to be ca. 3.5 billion years old. Bacteria and algae like them are believed to have filled the primitive, super-heated oceans of the world during the earliest stages of life on this planet.

Hadean Eon � 4500 to 3800 mybp56
Museum of Paleontology : Univ.Calif. at Berkeley

Future + 50 my World Map     Future + 100 my World Map     Future + 250 my World Map
Web Directories

WebRing: Navigation : Paleontology Webring Member List

Nearctica : Like this page, tries to provide well-selected topical links (very extensive)

Organizations, Journals and News Reports

Paleontological Society

The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology : Leading Journal in the Field

Palaeontologia Electronica: An online Journal in Paleontology

Invertebrate Paleontology:

The Polyglot Paleontologist : English translations of non-English paleontological papers.

Taxonomy and Systematics

Looking for a Name? : The Zoological Record: Systematics, Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Equidae Phylogeny : Evolutionary Tree of Horses

N. American Fossil Mammal Systematics Database : Compiled by John Alroy in the course of his research, it consists of phylogenies, taxonomic histories, age-ranges, and body mass estimates for genera and species of Cretaceous and Cenozoic North American fossil mammals.

Radiometric and Other Fossil Dating Methods

Dating Methods : Information on about 20 methodologies for dating fossils or their surroundings.

Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective : Simply the finest piece of Christian testimony and scientific writing that exists regarding radiometric methods and scientific dating in general. There is a fine section responding with hard evidence to claims of young earth creationists.

Radiometric Dating : The heart of the age-of-the-earth debate.

Transitional Fossils

Transitional Species and Observed Speciation : Contains the five links given here and many more.

Transitional Horses

Transitional Whales

Transitional Birds

Transitional Hominids

Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ : Extensive compendium by Kathleen Hunt

Fossil Collections

Fossil Collections of the World

University of California Museum of Paleontology Public Exhibits
For more information on fossils of pretty much any genera, go to the University of Berkeley's site and look up the phylum you're interested in, then click on the fossil record option for that taxon. This site is really stunning!

Paleontological Collection Catalogs : Links to 25+ Museums and over 50 collections.

Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History : One of those Wow!! websites.

The Rhynie Chert: Only about 400 million years ago did plants and animals leave the water and settle on dry land. The Rhynie Chert, a formation near Aberdeen in northeastern Scotland, holds a trove of well-preserved fossils from the days shortly after that milestone in the history of life. See also Rhynie Research Index.

Dinosaurs, Education, Exhibits: Project Exploration aims to increase public understanding of natural science, and to connect students and teachers with authentic science and working scientists.

The Process of Fossilization

Books on Paleontology

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History : by Stephen Jay Gould

The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals : by Simon Conway Morris

Gaining Ground: The Origin and Evolution of Tetrapods : by Jennifer Clack

At The Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, etc. : by Carl Zimmer

Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Comets, Craters, etc... : by James Lawrence Powell

The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, etc.... : by Connie Barlow

The Variety of Life: A Survey and a Celebration of all the Creatures That Have Ever Lived : by Colin Tudge

Extinct Humans : by Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz

Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth : by Richard Fortey

Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution : by Richard Fortey

Teaching Paleontology

First Appearances of Metazoans : A chart shows the oldest undoubted fossil occurences of each of the living major groups of animals. Note how many of the animal groups have fossil records that date back to the Cambrian period, over 500 million years ago. Click on any group to read much more about it.

The Rocky Road : Curious about how scientists learned to reconstruct fossil skeletons? The knowledge was slow in coming, and scientists and scholars had some weird ideas. This site shows some of their mistakes, and gives biographies of a few of the people who have gotten us where we are today.

Joseph Leidy, Pioneer in Paleontology: Father of American Vertebrate Paleontology, he also pioneered the fields of Parasitology and Protozoology, and was the preeminent Anatomist of his time. He was also an influential teacher of Natural History and an expert in entomology, geology and pathology.

Jurassic and Cretaceous Field Trip: The Fossil Forest, west of Lulworth Cove, Dorset, southern England, is a classic geological locality with the remains and moulds of late Jurassic or early Cretaceous coniferous trees rooted in a palaeosol (ancient soil), the Great Dirt Bed. Above the trees is stromatolitic limestone and over this the unusual Broken Beds, a limestone breccia that was originally evaporitic.

The Dawn of Animal Life Exhibit : While most people know of the dinosaurs from a mere 70 million years ago, few know that the Earth's fossil record stretches over 3 billion years into the past. Using Canadian rocks and fossils, this exhibit highlights almost three billion years of early evolution when only simple, soft-bodied creatures inhabited the Earth. From the Miller Museum of Geology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario.

Specializations Within Paleontology

Computational Paleontology : This page is devoted to the use of mathematical models, simulation, computer graphics and computers in general in paleontology:

PAST: Free, easy-to-use data analysis package aimed at paleontology. Inspired by PALSTAT, it includes common statistical, plotting and modelling functions, using a spreadsheet type data entry form. Screen shots, documentation and download available.

Palynology : The branch of science dealing with microscopic, decay-resistant remains of certain plants and animals. It has many applications including archaeological palynology, Quaternary palynology , and stratigraphic palynology. Univ. of Arizona.

The Dung File : The Dung File consists of a list of references dealing with pollen, parasites, and plant remains in coprolites and latrine fills from archaeological and palaeoenvironmental sites. The focus is on studies in North America and publications in English.

Skull Central : How do you peer inside an egg without breaking it? One way is with high-resolution x-ray computed tomography, which allows researchers to probe both soft and hard tissue, then assemble flat x-ray pictures into a 3D image. The Digital Morphology Group at the Univ. of Texas, Austin, has built a library of the skeletons of both modern and fossil vertebrates. There is also an anatomical tutorial to Thrinaxodon, a 245-million-year-old creature that is transitional between mammals and their ancestors.

Image Collections

Animals Fossilized in Amber

Invertebrate Paleontology Image Gallery : Presents images of fossils from the research collections in the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology. A display of quality individuals and spectacularly preserved specimens from the type and systematic collections at the Peabody Museum at Yale.

Animal Groups

Dramatic Sighting of "Fossil fish" : The coelacanth, the ancient fish that has existed for at least 360 million years, has been filmed swimming in shallow waters off the northeast coast of South Africa.

A Guide to the Orders of Trilobites : At first glance they all look like a cross between a horseshoe crab and a pill bug from your garden. This website offers a huge compendium of trilobite lore and images. At least 15,000 species of trilobites lived over 300 million years ago in the Paleozoic oceans; their hard shells left plenty of fossils. Illustrated fact sheets describe each of the eight orders, and there are galleries of photos.

Fossil of Oldest Crustacean Has Exquisite Detail: Limestone deposits in England have yielded the fossilized remains of the oldest known crustacean, with the tiny animal's soft parts, including the appendages with which it ate, preserved in extraordinary detail.


Fossil Hints at Mammal Evolution: The shrew-like animal would have run under the feet of dinosaurs at the start of the Jurassic period, nearly 195 million years ago. The fossil was found in Yunnan province in China and has been named Hadrocodium wui, meaning Fullhead. Full is a relative term; the animal weighed only about two grams, the same as the smallest land mammal living today. Its skull was just 12mm long

Eocene Cetaceans: Scientists have long known that the ancestors of modern whales lived on land and were four-footed air-breathing animals with fur and live birth. There is, however, disagreement among scientists what these ancestors looked like. Whatever the real ancestor looked like, whale origins took very little time. In about 8 million years whales evolved from terrestrial mammals to obligate marine swimmers.

Ground Sloths : Four species of ground sloths inhabited the United States at the end of the last Ice Age. These were Jefferson's ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii), Laurillard's ground sloth (Eremotherium laurillardi), the Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis), and Harlan's ground sloth (Glossotherium harlani). Only Jefferson's and Harlan's are found in the midwestern U.S.

Mammoths, Mastodons and Sabertooths : This exhibit shows ice sheets waxing and waning, and text describe shifts in Earth's elliptical orbit that partly explain Earth's eight glaciations over the past 750,000 years. In a section on the U.S. Midwest 16,000 years ago, check out a saber-tooth skeleton and a discussion of whether people killed off such big mammals.

Dinos and Birds

Feathered Dinosaurs of Liaoning: 124 mybp. More than 1,000 specimens have been discovered here and the surrounding region. They provide strong evidence of evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds.

Dinosaur Covered in Feathers: 130 mybp. The Dromaeosaur is more primitive than birds, suggesting that feathers developed before flight. Scientists think feathers evolved as insulation to keep the animal warm.

Oldest Dinosaur Fossil Discovery: Palaeontologists in Brazil may have found the oldest known dinosaur. The fossils, which include two skulls and other bones, date back to the high Triassic period, between 235 and 240 million years ago, when the dinosaurs were first developing from older reptiles called Thecodonts.

Dinosaurs With Feather-like Structures : have been found from deposits dating to roughly 130 million years ago during the Late Jurassic, however none have been as well preserved as this new specimen from the Yixian Formation. Great pictures.

Long-necked Dinosaur in Madagascar: 70 mybp. Until now, the lack of crucial skull fossils associated with complete skeletons has made figuring out how titanosaur species are related to one another a daunting task. The skull of Rapetosaurus shows that its nostrils lay on the top of the skull rather than in the front of the snout like a horse or a dog. See a report at National Geographic.

Dino Directory: From the Natural History Museum in London. Dig through more than 100 listings alphabetically or by geological period, body shape, or distribution. The entry for each dinosaur genus presents vital facts, such as size, diet, and range, along with pictures from the museum's huge gallery.

Dinobase : Extensive information on dinosaurs, including taxonomy and artwork.

Dinosaur Heart : Not only does this specimen have a heart, but computer-enhanced images of its chest strongly suggest it is a four-chambered, double-pump heart with a single systemic aorta, more like the heart of a mammal or bird than a reptile. 66-million-year-old Thescelosaurus (THESS-uh-loh-SAWR-us) about the size of a short-legged pony, was found in 1993 in northwest South Dakota.

Paluxy Dinosaur Track Controversy : For many years claims were made by strict creationists that human footprints or giant man tracks occur alongside dinosaur tracks in the limestone beds of the Paluxy River, near Glen Rose Texas. However, the man track claims have not stood up to close scientific scrutiny, and have been abandoned even by most creationists.

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paleontology.htm Last Updated April 22, 2011     Links verified April 22, 2011