The BGS geological timeline

The Earth as it might have looked from space during the Ordovician Period, 450 million years ago.


The BGS geological timeline tells the story of the Earth through words and pictures, beginning with the formation of our planet 4600 million years ago. It describes key events in the evolution of life from its earliest stages to the emergence of humans, and goes on to consider what the future may hold for the Earth's environment and all its inhabitants. Will humans still exist? What organisms might evolve? How will it all end? The geological timeline can be viewed online or as free download.

The concept of geological time can be difficult to understand. It is hard enough to grasp the long periods of time involved in human history such as the activities of the Egyptians 4000 years ago, or the Vikings 1000 years ago. If a thousand years is a long time, how can we comprehend a thousand million years? But it is intellectually stimulating to try.

Talking about geological time means using large numbers and it helps to break down these vast periods of time into more manageable pieces. The solar system is about half way through its life, so the geological timeline imagines the Earth as a middle-aged person; instead of describing the planet as 4600 million years old, we imagine it as someone celebrating their 46th birthday.

The timeline is interactive. You can move forward or back in time, exploring at your own pace. When you reach the end, test yourself with the timeline quiz or try your hand at one of the games. For more information on some of the fossils described, see our fossil focus pages.