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Teachers’ notes Geological time For many, the concept of time is difficult to grasp.

Yet even in Key Stages 1 and 2, children are expected to understand long periods of time: the activities of the Egyptians 4000 years ago, the Romans 2000 years ago or the Vikings 1000 years ago. If one thousand years is a long time, how can a child comprehend one thousand million years? But not only is it possible, it is intellectually stimulating. Geological time means large numbers and it is necessary to break down these vast periods of time into more manageable pieces. Scaling is a useful tool. There are a number of ‘models’ that have been used to scale the passing of the 4600 million years of the Earth’s geological history. Compressing geological time into, for example, a 460-page book, the twenty four hours of the day or even to a single hour have been used. These are misleading, however, as they gives the impression that, with the appearance of humans ‘a few seconds before mid-night’, geological time came to an end and that our species is the ultimate life form at the end of the long evolutionary process. This is far from the truth. If ‘survival of the fittest’ is the key to evolution, we have a lot to learn from blue-green cyanobacteria! The Geological Timeline It has been estimated that the solar system is about half way through its life, so the model presented here scales geological time to that of a middle-aged person. We consider the Earth not as a planet 4600 million years old, but as a person 46 years old today. Of course to an eight or 12 year old child, it is difficult to imagine that anybody could be as old as 46, but discussion about the age of relatives (parents and grandparents – and teachers?) makes this more understandable. For a child, the same mental agility is necessary to come to terms with 46 years, as for 460 years (the Tudor period), 4600 years (Egyptians were about to construct the pyramids) and 4600 million years (the age of the Earth). The Geological Timeline introduces the question— what of the future? Our middle-aged Earth is part way through its life. It is interesting to debate what the world’s environment might be in another million or 4000 million years. Will humans still exist? What will be the effect of humans on biodiversity? What organisms might evolve? What might the atmosphere be composed of? How will it all end? Classroom activities A timeline is the ideal way to comprehend the passage of geological time and to demonstrate how life, environment and geography has changed throughout Earth’s history. There are several ways that this can be achieved in school. • A piece of wall-paper 4.6 metres long could be stretched around a room, divided up into forty-six rectangles. • A 4.6 m length of rope, like a washing line, can be stretched across a playground with a peg every 10 cm . • An interesting project is to draw the timeline by computer. Whatever method is appropriate, subdivision into 46 units is useful as these give the idea of the 46 ‘birthdays’ (each birthday represents 100 million years of geological time). It is helpful if the last division (representing the last year) is an elongate rectangle divided into 12 ‘months’— a lot happened during that last ‘year’. The children’s work can be attached to the timeline—written work, photographs or art work. The key geological events in the history of life are shown in the Geological Timeline and further details are shown in the table below. It should be noted that some of these events did not fall exactly on the Earth's 'birthdays', but they have been placed next to the nearest one. So the appearance of the dinosaurs 225 million years ago, for example, has been placed at the 44th birthday (so within 25 million years). Of course absolute ages are approximate anyway and the degree of error and uncertainty increases with age. Taking the Carboniferous as an example, its lower boundary been variously dated between 367 and 353 million years ago and the top between 280 and 301, and is, therefore, between 52 and 87 million years in duration. Cross-curricular activities: These will depend on the age and ability of the children:

. Pictures of fossils. Student’s artwork can be scanned and attached to their time line (or digitally based artwork packages can be used). relationship between organisms and the environment they live in.bgs. A list can be found in the BGS catalogue and by visiting its web site (www. 1997. Hyperlinks can be used to link the time line to additional information (e. distribution and environmental requirements of a number of fossil groups.uk). Science—what is life. Fossils. maps.− − − − − − Mathematics—measuring (along a timeline). English—written work on a period of time. the story of life. including a short reference list. is published by the British Geological Survey: Rigby. but here we present the scientific view of geological time and the evolution of life. perhaps taken from the Web or from clip-art packages can be used. These laminated A3 cards colourfully explain the anatomy. scales. How does this compare with religious beliefs? Further reading A number of scientific palaeontology books are available.ac. rocks. S. etc. Earth studies Art—depiction of life in the past IT— construct a time line on a PC. rocks. etc. providing data that can be used on a timeline. Theology—this is a difficult subject. organisms. changes in the environment. The majority are for advanced students.g. students' written work or art work). 64pp [British Geological Survey. minerals. Keyworth] The Fossil Focus series is also published by the British Geological Survey. but a brief outline of the fossil record. calculations involving time.

Initially the oxygen was trapped in the rocks. silica-rich rocks dating to about 3500 Ma contain tubes about 40 microns long and thinner than a human hair. Eukaryotes require oxygen for their metabolism. but this is controversial. in the Pilbara region. worms. although this is controversial. grey cherts were precipitated instead. but this is now considered unlikely. Although some may have formed inorganically. single celled. The first eukaryotes appear. Geneticists have suggested animal life began c. the basic cell type that almost every living thing on Earth is made of—protista. was once believed to contain the earliest fossils. Oxygen was a waste product produced by bacteria and would have been poisonous to these early life forms. animal kingdoms (only bacteria. e. which in turn evolved via non-biological evolution. However. Eventually the stony crust cooled and solidified. but eventually there was too much to store in this way and it escaped into the atmosphere.The Timeline in ‘birthdays’ Approximate age of the Earth (millions of years) 0 Approximate time before present (millions of years) 4600 Notes on key events along the Timeline 0 1 100 4500 2 5 6 8 200 500 600 800 4400 4100 4000 3800 9 900 3700 11 1100 3500 16 1600 3000 25 2500 2100 31 3100 1500 39 3900 700 40 4000 600 Earth formed from a dust cloud with the sun in centre. Eventually free oxygen began to accumulate in the atmoshphere. When Earth was about 80% of its present size. plant. which gradually built up to form domes. fungus. Fecal pellets . Oxygen created by bacteria caused ferrous iron in the ocean water to oxidise and precipitate as a red layer of iron on the sea floor. Oldest known minerals to form on Earth are zircon crystals in Australia. Kingdom Monera. Banded Ironstone Formations (BIFs) are considered to have been created by bacteria. 1000 Ma ago. This is still controvercial. They began to form about 3700 Ma. there are some geologists who believe that they were formed by rock-eating bacteria. Earth's core formed when dense metals sank to the centre. These layers built up alternately to form BIFs. They formed a mat of calcite removed from the sea water.g. Stromatolites formed by blue-green cyanobacteria. 4000 Ma). but there is no evidence for this in the geological record. microscopic. by the oxidisation of iron. photosynthesising organisms. photosynthesising bacteria must have evolved from nonphotosynthesising ancestors. sea urchin-like creatures and jelly fish. debris around the Earth which fused together to form the moon. NW Australia. BIFs and limestones. Rocks 1000 Ma old show an increase in diversity of these early eukaryotes. The Ancaster Gneiss (Greenland) are Earth’s oldest known crustal rocks (c. The first multicelled animal fossils including the ‘sea-pen’ Charnia. BIFs provide the earliest signs of photosynthesis. but no fossils are known. protista. End of the Hadean (the name of the essentially unknown phase of Earth’s history. 3465 Ma old. Akilia Gneiss (3850 Ma) said to have carbon traces of life. it crashed with another planetoid. The earliest trace fossils in Australia and Africa are about 700 Ma old. are a little over 600 Ma old. have the simpler prokaryotic cell). However. Small amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere. Choanoflagellates are protistids with genetic material also found in animals and it has been suggested that the animal kingdom evolved from something similar. The Apex Chert (western Australia). Little is known about Earth (no crustal rocks survive). Sexual reproduction is said to have evolved at about this time. At times when oxygen was not being created. Inclusions said to indicate oceans had formed by this time. Blue-green bacteria are still making stromatolitic domes in Shark Bay (Australia) 3000 million years later. not represented by crustal rocks). Terrestrial ‘Red Beds’ were created 2100 Ma.

The first primates. Homo erectus is considered by some to be two species. but the most obvious is in the construction of the hip so that dinosaurs were able to stand with straight legs beneath their body. Homo erectus was the first human species to migrate across Europe and Asia. The first grasslands evolved during a prolonged phase cooling climate. . Animals with hard parts (shells and skeletons) e. Cooksonia. evolved from feathered theropod dinosaurs about 140 Ma ago. but soon afterwards species related to magnolia appeared (oldest fossil flower). The first species of human evolve in Africa— Homo habilis. the first amphibians (tetrapods) left the aquatic realm. ergaster and H. ammonites etc. the last of the evolutionary line of the dinosaurs continued to thrive).130 Ma ago) flowering plants evolved— Archaefructus was the earliest angiosperm (it had carpels but no flower).g. lived from 2.6 Ma ago. Fossils of their brain case shows that the speech centre is only just beginning to develop. The earliest fish evolved in the early Cambrian. Recently a skull c. just before the mass extinction and the disappearance of dinosaurs. Worms. flying reptiles and dinosaurs (although birds. foraminifera). Lizards had developed a water proof egg that did not have to be laid in water.4 Ma ago. Australopithecus was not human). They evolved in Africa about 1. erectus. snails and. the first bird. the first vascular plant. The first tropical rain forests evolved (the coal forests) and began to spread about 320 Ma ago. After extinction of the dinosaurs. They did not have a need to stay close to bodies of water and keep wet.3 to 1. 'Mammallike reptiles' evolved into the first mammals—shrew-like insectivores— about 210 Ma ago. including some of the primates that live on the ground rather than the trees.There are a number of differences. Soon afterwards (c. about 450 Ma ago. Lizards evolved into dinosaurs 225 Ma ago. occupying land.g. 6–7 days ago 2–2. evolved late in the Cretaceous. etc. Soon afterwards animals followed the plants. sea and air. barley. Comparison can be made to other vertebrates including ourselves.5 2–1. The first fish with calcareous back bones (rather than cartilaginous notocords) evolved a little later. Sufficient ozone in the atmosphere allowed plants to evolve from algae and colonise the land. Mass extinction of 65 to 70% of all species. Grass evolved. . by the late Devonian (about 350 Ma). 420 Ma ago. trilobites and molluscs evolved 545 million years ago (at the base of the Cambrian). very rapid mammalian evolutionary radiation. A number of animals took advantage of the expanding grasslands. 7 Ma old was discovered that has been suggested to be the earliest hominid but some believe it to be the skull of an ape.41 4100 500 42 4200 400 43 4300 300 44 4400 200 45 4500 100 8 months ago 7 months ago 4 months ago 4535 65 4550 50–60 4565 35Ma 2 months ago 4585 15 About 3 weeks ago Almost 4600 c. maize. brachiopods. perhaps. c. including corals. belemnites. the most important flowering plant so far as humans are concerned as it provides us with wheat.6 discovered in 600 million year old rocks in Scotland must have been left by an animal with a gut. Australopithecus afarensis ('Lucy') evolved about 5 Ma ago and the last species of Australopithecus boisei ('Nutcracker Man'). There have been several species. Monkeys evolved about 35 Ma ago and started to evolve rapidly: the dryopithecines appeared about 25 Ma and the first apes 17 Ma. Animal life has been found on the marshy land associated with early plant fossils. 5-6 About 7–8 days ago c. Invasion of land by plants began with the evolution of nonvascular bryophytes in the Mid Ordovician. rice. Soon afterwards. nautiloids. Archaeopteryx. The hominid Australopithecus evolved (‘hominid’ and ‘human’ should not be confused. including all the ammonites. crinoids.H. evolved in the late Silurian. Some were bipedal. graptolites and microscopic species too (e. especially in the Eocene (about 40–55 million years Ma). all kinds of organisms with hard parts began to evolve. Amphibians rapidly evolved into lizards. related to lemurs. This is.

What is waiting for our extinction? Could it be the turn of the insects? Or something totally unknown? In the longer term—reorganisation of the continents. The idea that we evolved from Homo neanderthalensis is flawed. mammoth.35 000 years ago to spread over Europe and Asia. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) evolved in Africa about 130 000 years ago. 500 000 years old. In the short term.fossils are found particularly in Mediterranean countries. Homo heidelbergensis evolved. The Industrial Revolution. 35 000 years ago c. The Timeline in ‘birthdays’ c. lions hippo and rhino lived in Britain. Man became a farmer. Homo rhodesiensis. radioactive waste.3 c. acid rain. etc.11 000 years ago 250 years ago Homo neanderthalensis evolved and spread throughout Europe during the 'Ice Ages' .1 minute ago Approximate time before present Notes on key events along the Timeline 150 000 years ago 130 000 years ago 4600 c. Neanderthals became extinct about 30 000years ago. Greenhouse and Icehouse Earth? And finally the sun becomes a red giant. The last glaciation in Britain ended about 10 000 years ago. but also Germany (the type area) and they also reached Britain. During warm periods. sometimes it was warmer than today. hole in ozone later. 2 days ago Approximate age of the Earth (millions of years) 0.1 hour ago c. but when the tundra developed. During the last 60 seconds we have pollution.More pollution? More extinctions? Changes in the atmosphere? Global warming? Rising sea levels and flooding of the continental margins? In the medium term—the extinction of human beings.5 hours ago c. The future 4600-9000 The next 4 600 million years . The earliest fossils are c. but the evolution of Homo is controvercial and there are a number of different evolutionary theories. perhaps from 'Rhodesia Man'. 5 days ago until 'last night' 1.5 Ice ages start. 'Heidelberg Man' is also known as 'Swanscombe Man' and 'Boxgrove Man' in Britain. 12 hours ago 46 c. wolves and giant elk lived here. but this was a period of very variable climate–Britain was sometimes buried beneath about 1 km thick ice caps. destroys the planets and dies.c. sometimes tundra developed.3. What will evolve to dominate the world then? The mammals had to wait for the extinction of the dinosaurs before their sudden evolutionary radiation. It possibly evolved from Homo heidelbergensis. mass extinction. Humans left Africa c. What next? The world has changed so much in the last 4600 million years who knows what will happen in the next.13 hours ago c.