History/Origins/Future of Energy,
Matter, Space, Time, and Life (2 of 7)
From ~3.5 Billion Years Ago
to ~359 Million Years Ago

(updated August 16, 2009)

Years Ago



~3.5 to 2.7 billion ....

The Rise of Oxygen
... Cyanobacteria or blue-green algae became the first
microbes to produce oxygen by photosynthesis, perhaps
as long ago as 3.5 billion years ago and certainly by 2.7
billion years ago. ...

~ 3.43 billion ....


Ancient rocks (Stromatolites) 'built' by microbes:

~3.2 billion ....

Ancient oil points to 'cradle of life'

~2.7 billion ....

... origin of the eukaryotic cell was a milestone in the
evolution of life, since they include all complex cells
and almost all multi-cellular organisms ... presence
of steranes in Australian shales indicates that eukar-
yotes were present 2.7 billion years ago. ...

~2.5 billion .... 

Ancient rock points to life's origin
The continents were moving across the face of the
Earth much sooner than had been thought, according
to new evidence from China. The new data come
from a huge chunk of the rock that lay beneath the
sea floor 2.5 billion years ago. ... The discovery
that ancient tectonic plates were shifting could
throw some light on the origin of life on Earth. ...

~2.4 to 2.3 billion .... 

The Rise of Oxygen
"... Earth's atmosphere first gained significant amounts
[of] oxygen, some 2.4 billion to 2.3 billion years ago. ..."

2.3 billion ....

Snowball Earth Culprit Found?
"... cyanobacteria (or blue-green algae) suddenly evolved
the ability to break water and release oxygen [in climate-
impacting amounts] about 2.3 billion years ago. Oxygen
destroyed the greenhouse gas methane that was then
abundant in the atmosphere, throwing the global climate
completely out of kilter. ..."

~2 billion .... 

"... Some 120km south-west of Johannesburg, Vrede-
fort Dome - which has a radius of 190km - is estimated
to date back some 2 billion years. ... 'Vredefort Dome
bears witness to the world's greatest known single
energy release event, which caused devastating global
change.' ..."

~1.1 billion ....

What Would Life Be Like Without SEX?
"... When did sex evolve? It’s not known with certainty, but perhaps about 1.1 billion years ago, when phytoplankton are first seen to become diverse in the fossil record.

How did sex originate? With the invention of two new processes: meiosis (derived from mitosis), the reduction cell division that gives rise to spores in algae and plants, and sex cells in animals; and syngamy, the fusion of sex cells to complete the life cycle.

Why does sex matter? Because sexually produced off-spring combine traits from two parental stocks. Genetic variation is vastly increased. Evolution accelerates. Diversity markedly expands.

So there was life without sex on this planet for well over 2 million millennia, some two-thirds of the total history
of life. What was it like? A world of pond scum and microbes. Not much diversity. Not much change over time. Humdrum verging on boring. But it was also enormously important. Without that asexual world and its evolutionary inventions (among others, photo- synthesis, the ability to breathe oxygen, and sexual reproduction), you and I would not be here to ponder life, sex, or anything else! ..."

~800 million ....

"... About 800 million years ago, oxygen levels reached
about 21 percent and began to breathe life into more
complex organisms. The oxygen-rich ozone layer was
also established, shielding the Earth's surface from harm-
ful solar radiation. ..."

~750 to 570 million ....

Earth's huge 'snowball event' 
"... a fall in the level of carbon dioxide in the earth's
atmosphere 750 million years ago caused a drop in
global temperatures which came close to wiping out
all life on earth. The entire earth became covered with
snow, which reflected the sun's heat and further accel-
erated the process of freezing - a phenomenon which
has been dubbed a 'snowball event'. ... There may have
been four periods of global glaciation between 750 and
570 million years ago. ..."

Paleomap project - detailed maps with continental
drift, climates, and click-drag virtual reality displays
of changes through time, from ~750 million years
ago up to a forecast of future changes + ~250
million years from the present:

Paleomap climate links with a chart displaying
variation in average temperature of the earth from
the Precambrian to the present day:

Click-drag virtual reality display of continental drift
from ~750 to ~540 million years ago:

~700 million ....

Explosive Growth of Life On Earth
Fueled by Early Greening Of Planet

"... a massive greening of the planet by non-vascular
plants, or primitive ground huggers ... This period,
roughly 700 million years ago virtually set the table
for the later explosion of life through the development
of early soil that sequestered carbon, led to the build
up of oxygen and allowed higher life forms to evolve. ..."

~650 million ....

View of the earth in the late Proterozoic:

~600 million ....

"... The first multicelled animals appeared in the fossil
record almost 600 million years ago. Known as the
Ediacarans, these bizarre creatures bore little resem-
blance to modern life-forms. They grew on the seabed
and lacked any obvious heads, mouths, or digestive

...The earliest multicelled animals that survived the Pre-
cambrian fall into three main categories. The simplest
of these soft-bodied creatures were sponges. Lacking
organs or a nervous system, they lived by drawing water
through their bodies and filtering out food particles.

The cnidarians, which included sea anemones, corals,
and jellyfish, had sac-like bodies and a simple digestive
system with a mouth but no anus. They caught food
using tentacles armed with microscopic stinging cells.

The third group, the annelids, or segmented flatworms,
had fluid-filled body cavities and breathed through their

It's thought the final stages of Precambrian time were
marked by a prolonged global ice age. This may have
led to widespread extinctions, mirroring the bleak end-
ings to the geologic periods that followed. ..."

Keys to evolution of all life ...

Genetic Toolkit:
"... The development of body plans in all animals
is controlled by a remarkably small number of
genes -- and those genes are virtually identical in
all animals. ... The genes containing developmen-
tal instructions for the body plan are known as
homeobox-containing genes. The DNA code in
homeobox genes directs the cell to make chem-
ical sequences, which in turn regulate still other
genes that affect the positioning of cells in the
embryo. ..."

Evolution Genetic Toolkit

Discovery of the Molecular Basis of Evolution:

Prions May Play Crucial Role In Evolution:

Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of

The Evolution of Life on Earth, by Stephen Jay Gould:

Repeat of the reference to a comprehensive
Earth History, as of 2001 (note-a great deal of
information is contained in this page, and some
of the referenced dates are no longer applicable,
due to ongoing discoveries which are one of the
greatest advantages of the scientific method):

An Origin of Species:

Tree of Life web project:

Preponderance of Evidence for
Naturalistic Origins and Evolution of Life 
(expanded to 4 of 4 on 031909 
"Intelligent Design advocates (i.e., the 
latest phase in the evolution of creationists/
goddidditists) seem to be steadfastly com-
mitted to dismissing out-of-hand the prepon-
derance of evidence for evolution against
the extreme lack of evidence for 'goddiddit' 
or 'aliensdiddit' ..."

Evolution? 'It's not only a theory.  It is a
historical fact, evident and provable.' (1 of 2)
"... 'The proof comes from fossils, geographical
distribution, genetics' ... Links/excerpts to some
helful information  regarding evolution's past/
present/future, science, and how the scientific
method is a superior methodology when it
comes to open-minded search for verity ..."

Evolution? 'It's not only a theory.  It is a
historical fact, evident and provable.' (2 of 2) Video
"Charles Darwin ... Sir David Attenborough
discusses how Darwin helped shape his career
... What evidence supports evolution through
natural selection? ... Why Evolution Is True ..."

The Woodstock of Evolution
"... 8 key highlights of some of the fascinating
information contained in the article:
1) Darwin was a Creationist before he
developed the theory of evolution
2) Origin of Life (on Earth) -- 3 sources
3) Origin of Life (on Earth) -- what we know
and what we don't know yet
4) Origin of Life (on Earth) -- what came first,
cells or RNA
5) Extinctions
6) Intelligent Design Creationism
7) Sex
8) Science's Greatest Strength ..."

Intelligent Design versus Evolution
"... 'Intelligent design is just a way for creationists
to put a new face on their beliefs and agenda and
to try and get around legislation on the separation
of church and state.' ... 'Why Evolution is True' ..."

Charles Darwin, a Hero of Humankind,
born 200 years ago
"February 12, 1809, a monumental day in
the evolution of humankind from ignorance
and myth -to- a much deeper understanding
of the place of homo sapiens and all life in
a naturalistic world. ..."

Richard Dawkins: The Importance of Charles Darwin

Richard Dawkins: Fossils & Darwin

Richard Dawkins: Why Darwin Was Right

Richard Dawkins: Creationism

Richard Dawkins: God & the Universe

~600 to ~580 million ....

Fossil may be ancestor of most animals
"... The earliest known ancestor of most animals may have
been a minute creature shaped like a flattened helmet and
barely visible to the naked eye, according to a new fossil
discovery. ... The researchers named the new animal
'Vernanimalcula', or 'small spring animal', referring to the
fact that it lived after a 'wintry' period of extensive glacia-

This photomicrograph shows a cross-section of the newly
discovered animal fossil from 580 million-year-old to 600
million-year-old rocks in south China. The creature would
have been barely visible to the naked eye ..."

~580 million ....

Acraman asteroid impact, South Australia:

~542 million to ~488 million ....

Cambrian Period
542 Million to 488 Million Years Ago
"The Cambrian period, part of the Paleozoic era,
produced the most intense burst of evolution ever
known. The Cambrian Explosion saw an incredible
diversity of life emerge, including many major animal
groups alive today. Among them were the chordates,
to which vertebrates (animals with backbones) such
as humans belong.

First trilobites, forams, brachiopods, nautiloids, clams, snails, crustaceans, crinoids, gastropods, corals, protozoans.

What sparked this biological bonanza isn't clear. It
may be that oxygen in the atmosphere, thanks to
emissions from photosynthesizing cyanobacteria
and algae, were at levels needed to fuel the growth
of more complex body structures and ways of living.
The environment also became more hospitable, with
a warming climate and rising sea levels flooding low-
lying landmasses to create shallow, marine habitats
ideal for spawning new life-forms.

... the scale of the Cambrian Explosion is likely exag-
gerated due to the proliferation of hard-bodied animals
that fossilized much more readily than their soft-bodied

... the 530-million-year-old Chengjiang fossil bed in
China, where scientists found the remains of two differ-
ent types of tiny, jawless fish. Representing the oldest
known backboned animals with living relatives, the
fossils showed that our vertebrate ancestors entered
the evolutionary story ... The end of the Cambrian saw
a series of mass extinctions during which many ... ani-
mals went extinct. ..."

The Cambrian Explosion
"... during a 10 to 20 million year stretch of time,
beginning about 540 million years ago, life evolved
at an explosive rate. Scientists call the period the
'Cambrian Explosion'. ... by the end of the Cambrian
explosion, all of the eight major animals body plans
in existence today, along with 27 minor ones, had
emerged. ..."

Biological Big Bang
"... Before the Cambrian, genes were only able to
control the production of simple animals, such as
sponges and jellies. During the Explosion, assem-
blages of animal genes may have evolved sufficiently
to direct the production of more complex groups
of creatures -- animals with heads, brains, arms
and legs.

It's possible as well that during the Cambrian, the
waters' oxygen levels increased. And finally, the
Cambrian Explosion might have happened because
of the development of a biological arms race that
continues to this day. As more animals appeared
and the food web diversified, the pressure to adapt
to increasingly competitive predator prey interactions
may have dramatically amplified the evolutionary
response. ..."

Trilobites, like this perfectly preserved specimen at South Dakota's Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, were among the most successful organisms ever to populate Earth. These familiar marine arthropods first arose about 545 million years ago in the early Cambrian and thrived throughout the world's oceans until they were wiped out in the Permian extinctions about 250 million years ago.

Click-drag virtual reality display of continental drift
resulting in the assembly of the super-continent of
Pangea, from ~540 to ~240 million years ago:

~530 million ....

Walking With Monsters -- Part 1 of 9
Early Earth-Moon / Cambrian / Silurian
"The first episode begins with an illustration of the giant impact
hypothesis: ... when the Earth was formed, it is conjectured that
a planet-like object referred to as Theia collided into the early
Earth, dynamically reshaping the Earth and forming the moon.

... Cambrian
Place: the Chengjiang biota, China
 — Oxygen Content: 30% Below Today  
 — Hazards: World's First Super Predator

[featured in this part]
  • Anomalocaris
  • Haikouichthys
  • trilobite
  • jellyfish (live acted) ..."
Also included, Silurian (see Part 2, below, for details)

~514 million ....

View of the earth in the late Cambrian:

~510 million ....

Odd looking (to us, anyway) soft body creatures
present, as evidenced by an impressive fossil
find in the Burgess Shale (of the Canadian Rockies).

Detailed graphics/descriptions of continental drift
and evolution of life from ~510 million years ago
to the current day:

~505 million ....

The backbone evolves in the form of jawless fish;
mass extinction of marine life; marine animals develop
hard shells (trilobites, crustaceans, and corals).

~500 million ....

Green algae (plant ancestors) start a green revolution
from sea to land; anthropods (insects) follow them.

~488 million to 443 million ....

Ordovician Period
488 Million to 443 Million Years Ago
"... a rich variety of marine life flourished in the vast seas
and the first primitive plants began to appear on land,
before the second largest mass extinction of all time
ended the period.

First starfish, sea urchins, blastoids, eurypterids, bryozoa, scaphopods, jawless fish, echinoids.
... Life at the start of the Ordovician remained confined
to the seas with new animals evolving in place of those
that didn't survive the Cambrian. ... Fish started becoming
more widespread in the fossil record. They were small
and had downward-pointing, jawless mouths, indicating
they lived by sucking and filtering food from the seabed.
Bony shields covered the front of their bodies—the begin-
nings of a fashion for armor plating among fish.

... hard-bodied arthropods started eyeing opportunities
on land. Edging into freshwater and shallow lagoons, they
 likely included horseshoe crabs, which, despite their name,
are more closely related to spiders and scorpions. A few
species of these 'living fossils' still survive today, such as
along the eastern seaboard of the United States, where
each spring horseshoe crabs crawl ashore to spawn.

There is also evidence that the first primitive plants began
to appear on the previously barren land. These first steps
toward life on land were cut short by the freezing condi-
tions that gripped the planet toward the end of the Ordo-
vician. This resulted in the second largest mass extinction
of all time, wiping out at least half of all marine animal
species about 443 million years ago. ..."

~458 million ....

View of the earth in the middle Ordovician:

~455 million ....

Plant & fungi kingdoms evolve on land.

~445 million ....

~445 million year old giant trilobite discovered
near Manitoba, Canada:

~443 million to 416 million ....

Silurian Period
443 Million to 416 Million Years Ago
"... animals and plants finally emerge on land. ... The growth
of corals and other marine organisms was stoked by oceans
teeming with tiny planktonic creatures. Waiting at the other
end of the food chain were the fearsome eurypterids, or sea
scorpions. Some species grew to more than six feet ... in length
and are considered the largest arthropods ever to have lived.

First land plants, ferns, sharks, boney fish, scorpions (an eurypterid, a prehistoric sea scorpion, pictured above)

... Fish were now diversifying and extending their feeding
options beyond simply vacuuming meals off the seabed. ...
spiny sharks, evolved more menacing mouths with jaws.
While these fish, the first true jawed fish, reached no great
size during the Silurian, they were on their way to becoming
one of the planet's top predators.

Creepy-crawlies also began to appear on land. Starting off
small, they measured no more than a few centimeters long.
These terrestrial pioneers were arthropods, such as primitive
centipedes and arachnids, the ancestors of spiders.

The first true plants began to take root on land some 430
million years ago. They evolved rigid stems, enabling them
to stand upright, and the tubular tissues common to all vas-
cular plants that allowed the transport of water and nutrients.
These first colonizers lacked leaves, but mosses and other
plants followed, providing a thin layer of waterside vegeta-
tion that encouraged more aquatic animals to make the
transition to land.

The climate remained warm and stable throughout most
of the Silurian. The supercontinent of Gondwana was still
positioned over the South Pole but the vast icecaps of the
late Ordovician period melted almost to nothing. Sediments
formed from massive quantities of broken shells suggest
violent storms were triggered by the warmth of tropical

The Silurian drew to a close with a series of extinction
events linked to climate change ..."

~425 million ....

View of the earth in the middle Silurian:

~418 million ....

For the first part of the Silurian video, see the latter part of Part 1 above.

Walking With Monsters -- Part 2 of 9
"... 418 Million Years Ago — Silurian
 — Place: South Wales, UK
 — Oxygen Content: 30% Below Today
 — Hazards: Giant Scorpions:

[featured in this part]
  • Cephalapsis
  • Brontoscorpio
  • Straight-Shelled Nautiloid
  • Pterygotus
  • Cooksonia early land plant ..."
~416 to ~359 million ....

Devonian Period
416 Million to 359 Million Years Ago
"...  the planet was changing its appearance. The great
supercontinent of Gondwana was headed steadily north-
ward, away from the South Pole, and a second super-
continent began to form that straddled the Equator.
Known as Euramerica, or Laurussia, it was created by
the coming together of parts of North America, northern
Europe, Russia, and Greenland.

Red-colored sediments, generated when North America
collided with Europe, give the Devonian its name, as these
distinguishing rocks were first studied in Devon, England.

The Devonian, part of the Paleozoic era, is otherwise
known as the Age of Fishes, as it spawned a remarkable
variety of fish. The most formidable of them were the
armored placoderms, a group that first appeared during
the Silurian with powerful jaws lined with bladelike plates
that acted as teeth. ... later species developed into fero-
cious, fish-slicing monsters measuring up to 33 feet ... long.

... ancestors of fishes living today belonged to two main
nonarmored groups. The cartilaginous fish, so-called
because cartilage formed their skeletons, later gave rise
to sharks and rays. ... The second group, the bony fish,
were covered in scales and had maneuverable fins and
gas-filled swim bladders for controlling their buoyancy.
Most modern fishes are bony fish.

The bony fish included lobefins. ... credited with the giant
evolutionary stride that led to the amphibians, making lobe-
fins the ancestors of all four-limbed land vertebrates, includ-
ing dinosaurs and mammals. ... Some lobefins are still around
today, such as the famous 'living fossil' fish, the coelacanth.

First insects, ammonites, placoderms, tetrapods,(early tetrapods Acanthostega [foreground] & Ichthyostega, pictured above)

A recently discovered fossil creature from the Devonian has been hailed as a vital link between fish and the first vertebrates to walk on land.

Found in the Canadian Arctic in 2004, Tiktaalik had a crocodile-like head and strong, bony fins that scientists think it used like legs to move in shallow waters or even on land. The fish showed other characteristics of terrestrial animals, including ribs, a neck, and nostrils on its snout for breathing air.

- - -
Details Of Evolutionary Transition
From Fish To Land Animals Revealed
- - -

The first amphibians breathed through simple lungs and their
skin. They may have spent most of their lives in the water,
leaving it only to escape the attentions of predatory fish.

... Plants began spreading beyond the wetlands ... with new
types developing that could survive on dry land. Toward the
end of the Devonian the first forests arose as stemmed plants
evolved strong, woody structures capable of supporting raised
branches and leaves. Some Devonian trees are known to have
grown 100 feet ... tall.

... The new life burgeoning on land apparently escaped the
worst effects of the mass extinction that ended the Devonian.
The main victims were marine creatures, with up to 70 per-
cent of species wiped out. Reef-building communities almost
completely disappeared.

Theories put forward to explain this extinction include global
cooling due to the re-glaciation of Gondwana, or reduced
atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide
because of the foresting of the continents. A major asteroid
impact has also been suggested."

~390 million ....

View of the earth in the early Devonian:

~360 million ....

Walking With Monsters -- Part 3 of 9
Devonian / Carboniferous
"... Devonian — Place: Pennsylvania, USA
 — Oxygen Content: 20% Below Today
 — Hazards: Giant Killer Fish:

[featured in this part]
  • Hynerpeton
  • Hyneria
  • Stethacanthus (identified as shark)
  • scorpion (live acted) ..."
Also included, Carboniferous (see Part 4, next segment, for details)

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