The geologic time scale provides a system of chronologic measurement relating stratigraphy to time that is used by geologists, paleontologists and other earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships between events that have occurred during the history of the Earth. The table of geologic time spans presented here agrees with the dates and nomenclatureproposed by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, and uses the standard color codes of the United States Geological Survey.
Evidence from radiometric dating indicates that the Earth is about 4.570 billion years old. The geological or deep time of Earth's past has been organized into various units according to events which took place in each period. Different spans of time on the time scale areusually delimited by major geological or paleontological events, such as mass extinctions. For example, the boundary between the Cretaceous period and the Paleogene period is defined by the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, which marked the demise of the dinosaurs and of many marine species. Older periods which predate the reliable fossil record are defined by absolute age.
Each era on thescale is separated from the next by a major event or change.
The largest defined unit of time is the supereon, composed of eons. Eons are divided into eras, which are in turn divided into periods, epochs and ages. The terms eonothem, erathem, system, series, and stage are used to refer to the layers of rock that correspond to these periods of geologic time.
Geologists qualify theseunits as Early, Mid, and Late when referring to time, and Lower, Middle, and Upper when referring to the corresponding rocks. For example, the Lower Jurassic Series in chronostratigraphy corresponds to the Early Jurassic Epoch in geochronology. The adjectives are capitalized when the subdivision is formally recognized, and lower case when not; thus "early Miocene" but "Early Jurassic."
History ofthe time scale and names
In classical antiquity, Aristotle saw that fossil seashells from rocks were similar to those found on the beach and inferred that the fossils were once part of living animals. He reasoned that the positions of land and sea had changed over long periods of time. Leonardo da Vinci concurred with Aristotle's view that fossils were the remains of ancient life.
The11th-century Persian geologist Avicenna (Ibn Sina) examined various fossils and inferred that they originated from the petrifaction of plants and animals. He also first proposed one of the principles underlying geologic time scales, the law of superposition of strata, while discussing the origins of mountains in The Book of Healing in 1027.
Later in the 11th century, the Chinese naturalist, Shen Kuo(1031–1095), also recognized the concept of 'deep time'.
The principles underlying geologic (geological) time scales were later laid down by Nicholas Steno in the late 17th century. Steno argued that rock layers (or strata) are laid down in succession, and that each represents a "slice" of time. He also formulated the law of superposition, which states that any given stratum is probably older than thoseabove it and younger than those below it. While Steno's principles were simple, applying them to real rocks proved complex. Over the course of the 18th century geologists realized that:
1. Sequences of strata were often eroded, distorted, tilted, or even inverted after deposition;
2. Strata laid down at the same time in different areas could have entirely different appearances;
3. The strataof any given area represented only part of the Earth's long history.
The first serious attempts to formulate a geological time scale that could be applied anywhere on Earth were made in the late 18th century. The most influential of those early attempts (championed by Abraham Werner, among others) divided the rocks of the Earth's crust into four types: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, and...