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Period (geology)

A geologic period is one of several subdivisions of geologic time enabling cross-referencing of rocks and geologic events from place to place.

These periods form elements of a hierarchy of divisions into which geologists have split the earth's history.

Eons and eras are larger subdivisions than periods while periods themselves may be divided into epochs and ages.


The twelve currently recognised periods of the present eon - the Phanerozoic - are defined by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) by reference to the stratigraphy at particular locations around the world.

In 2004 the Ediacaran Period of the latest Precambrian was defined in similar fashion (and was the first such newly designated period in 130 years) but earlier periods are simply defined by age.

A consequence of this approach to the Phanerozoic periods is that the ages of their beginnings and ends can change from time to time as the absolute ages of the chosen rock sequences which define them is more precisely determined.

The suite of rocks (sedimentary, igneous or metamorphic) associated with a geologic period is known as a system, so for example the 'Jurassic System' of rocks was put in place during the 'Jurassic Period' (between around 200 and 145.5 million years ago).

Continuity issues

In a steady effort ongoing since 1974, the International Commission on Stratigraphy has been working to correlate the world's local stratigraphic record into one uniform planet-wide benchmarked system.

American geologists have long considered the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian to be periods in their own right though the ICS now recognises them both as 'subperiods' of the Carboniferous Period recognised by European geologists. Cases like this in China, Russia and even New Zealand with other geological eras has slowed down the uniform organization of the stratigraphic record.

Notable changes

  • Changes in recent years have included the abandonment of the former Tertiary Period in favour of the Paleogene and succeeding Neogene periods.
  • The abandonment of the Quaternary period was also considered but it has been retained for continuity reasons.
  • Even earlier in the history of the science, the Tertiary was considered to be an 'era' and its subdivisions (Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene and Pliocene) were themselves referred to as 'periods' but they now enjoy the status of 'epochs' within the more recently erected Paleogene and Neogene periods.

Geological eras

The following table includes all currently recognized periods. The table omits the time before 2500 million years ago, which is not divided into periods.

Eon Era Period Extent, Million
Years Ago
Phanerozoic Cenozoic Quaternary (Pleistocene/Holocene) 2.588 - 0
Neogene (Miocene/Pliocene) 23.03 - 2.588
Paleogene (Paleocene/Eocene/Oligocene) 66.0 - 23.03
Mesozoic Cretaceous 145.5 - 66.0
Jurassic 201.3 - 145.0
Triassic 252.17 - 201.3
Paleozoic Permian 298.9 - 252.17
Carboniferous (Mississippian/Pennsylvanian) 358.9 - 298.9
Devonian 419.2 - 358.9
Silurian 443.4 - 419.2
Ordovician 485.4 - 443.4
Cambrian 541.0 - 485.4
Proterozoic Neoproterozoic Ediacaran 635.0 - 541.0
Cryogenian 850 - 635
Tonian 1000 - 850
Mesoproterozoic Stenian 1200 - 1000
Ectasian 1400 - 1200
Calymmian 1600 - 1400
Paleoproterozoic Statherian 1800 - 1600
Orosirian 2050 - 1800
Rhyacian 2300 - 2050
Siderian 2500 - 2300

Geology to Palaeobiology

e  h
Units in geochronology and stratigraphy[1]
Segments of rock (strata) in chronostratigraphy Time spans in geochronology Notes to
geochronological units
4 total, half a billion years or more
10 defined, several hundred million years
22 defined, tens to ~one hundred million years
tens of millions of years
millions of years
subdivision of an age, not used by the ICS timescale

See also


  1. ^ Cohen, K.M.; Finney, S.; Gibbard, P.L. (2015), International Chronostratigraphic Chart (PDF), International Commission on Stratigraphy .