Last updated
1000 – 538.8 ± 0.2 Ma
Proposed redefinition(s)850–541 Ma
Gradstein et al., 2012
Proposed subdivisions Cryogenian Period, 850–630 Ma

Gradstein et al., 2012
Ediacaran Period, 630–541.0 Ma


Gradstein et al., 2012
Name formalityFormal
Usage information
Celestial body Earth
Regional usageGlobal (ICS)
Time scale(s) usedICS Time Scale
Chronological unit Era
Stratigraphic unit Erathem
Time span formalityFormal
Lower boundary definitionDefined Chronometrically
Lower boundary GSSPN/A
GSSP ratifiedN/A
Upper boundary definitionAppearance of the Ichnofossil Treptichnus pedum
Upper boundary GSSP Fortune Head section, Newfoundland, Canada
47°04′34″N55°49′52″W / 47.0762°N 55.8310°W / 47.0762; -55.8310
GSSP ratified1992

The Neoproterozoic Era is the unit of geologic time from 1 billion to 538.8 million years ago. [1]

It is the last era of the Precambrian Supereon and the Proterozoic Eon; it is subdivided into the Tonian, Cryogenian, and Ediacaran periods. It is preceded by the Mesoproterozoic Era and succeeded by the Paleozoic Era of the Phanerozoic Eon.

The most severe glaciation known in the geologic record occurred during the Cryogenian, when ice sheets may have reached the equator and formed a "Snowball Earth".

The earliest fossils of complex multicellular life are found in the Ediacaran Period. These organisms make up the Ediacaran biota, including the oldest definitive animals in the fossil record.

According to Rino and co-workers, the sum of the continental crust formed in the Pan-African orogeny and the Grenville orogeny makes the Neoproterozoic the period of Earth's history that has produced most continental crust. [2]


At the onset of the Neoproterozoic the supercontinent Rodinia, which had assembled during the late Mesoproterozoic, straddled the equator. During the Tonian, rifting commenced which broke Rodinia into a number of individual land masses.

Possibly as a consequence of the low-latitude position of most continents, several large-scale glacial events occurred during the Neoproterozoic Era including the Sturtian and Marinoan glaciations of the Cryogenian Period.

These glaciations are believed to have been so severe that there were ice sheets at the equator—a state known as the "Snowball Earth".


Neoproterozoic time is subdivided into the Tonian (1000–720 Ma), Cryogenian (720–635 Ma) and Ediacaran (635–538.8 Ma) periods. [1]

Russian regional timescale

In the regional timescale of Russia, the Tonian and Cryogenian correspond to the Late Riphean; the Ediacaran corresponds to the Early to middle Vendian. [3] Russian geologists divide the Neoproterozoic of Siberia into the Mayanian (from 1000 to 850 Ma) followed by the Baikalian (from 850 to 650 Ma). [4]


The idea of the Neoproterozoic Era was introduced in the 1960s. Nineteenth-century paleontologists set the start of multicellular life at the first appearance of hard-shelled arthropods called trilobites and archeocyathid sponges at the beginning of the Cambrian Period. In the early 20th century, paleontologists started finding fossils of multicellular animals that predated the Cambrian. A complex fauna was found in South West Africa in the 1920s but was inaccurately dated. Another fauna was found in South Australia in the 1940s, but it was not thoroughly examined until the late 1950s. Other possible early animal fossils were found in Russia, England, Canada, and elsewhere (see Ediacaran biota). Some were determined to be pseudofossils, but others were revealed to be members of rather complex biotas that remain poorly understood. At least 25 regions worldwide have yielded metazoan fossils older than the classical Precambrian–Cambrian boundary (which is currently dated at 538.8  million years ago). [5] [1]

A few of the early animals appear possibly to be ancestors of modern animals. Most fall into ambiguous groups of frond-like organisms; discoids that might be holdfasts for stalked organisms ("medusoids"); mattress-like forms; small calcareous tubes; and armored animals of unknown provenance.

These were most commonly known as Vendian biota until the formal naming of the Period, and are currently known as Ediacaran Period biota. Most were soft bodied. The relationships, if any, to modern forms are obscure. Some paleontologists relate many or most of these forms to modern animals. Others acknowledge a few possible or even likely relationships but feel that most of the Ediacaran forms are representatives of unknown animal types.

In addition to Ediacaran biota, two other types of biota were discovered in China. The Doushantuo Formation preserves fossils of microscopic marine organisms in great detail. [6] The Hainan biota consists of small worm-shaped organisms. [7]

Molecular phylogeny suggests that animals may have emerged even earlier in the Proterozoic, but physical evidence for such animal life is lacking. Possible keratose sponge fossils have been reported in reefs dating back to 890 million years before the present, but remain unconfirmed. [8]

Terminal period

The nomenclature for the terminal period of the Neoproterozoic Era has been unstable. Russian and Nordic geologists referred to the last period of the Neoproterozoic as the Vendian, while Chinese geologists referred to it as the Sinian, and most Australians and North Americans used the name Ediacaran.

However, in 2004, the International Union of Geological Sciences ratified the Ediacaran Period to be a geological age of the Neoproterozoic, ranging from 635 to 538.8 (at the time to 542) million years ago. [9] [10] The Ediacaran Period boundaries are the only Precambrian boundaries defined by biologic Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Points, rather than the absolute Global Standard Stratigraphic Ages.

See also

Related Research Articles

Cambrian First period of the Paleozoic Era, 539–485 million years ago

The Cambrian Period was the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, and of the Phanerozoic Eon. The Cambrian lasted 53.4 million years from the end of the preceding Ediacaran Period 538.8 million years ago (mya) to the beginning of the Ordovician Period 485.4 mya. Its subdivisions, and its base, are somewhat in flux. The period was established as "Cambrian series" by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name for 'Cymru' (Wales), where Britain's Cambrian rocks are best exposed. Sedgwick identified the layer as part of his task, along with Roderick Murchison, to subdivide the large "Transition Series", although the two geologists disagreed for a while on the appropriate categorization. The Cambrian is unique in its unusually high proportion of lagerstätte sedimentary deposits, sites of exceptional preservation where "soft" parts of organisms are preserved as well as their more resistant shells. As a result, our understanding of the Cambrian biology surpasses that of some later periods.

Ediacaran Third and last period of the Neoproterozoic Era

The Ediacaran Period is a geological period that spans 96 million years from the end of the Cryogenian Period 635 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Cambrian Period 538.8 Mya. It marks the end of the Proterozoic Eon, and the beginning of the Phanerozoic Eon. It is named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia.

The Precambrian is the earliest part of Earth's history, set before the current Phanerozoic Eon. The Precambrian is so named because it preceded the Cambrian, the first period of the Phanerozoic Eon, which is named after Cambria, the Latinised name for Wales, where rocks from this age were first studied. The Precambrian accounts for 88% of the Earth's geologic time.

The Snowball Earth hypothesis proposes that, during one or more of Earth's icehouse climates, the planet's surface became entirely or nearly entirely frozen. It is believed that this occurred sometime before 650 Mya during the Cryogenian period. Proponents of the hypothesis argue that it best explains sedimentary deposits that are generally believed to be of glacial origin at tropical palaeolatitudes and other enigmatic features in the geological record. Opponents of the hypothesis contest the implications of the geological evidence for global glaciation and the geophysical feasibility of an ice- or slush-covered ocean, and they emphasize the difficulty of escaping an all-frozen condition. A number of unanswered questions remain, including whether Earth was a full snowball or a "slushball" with a thin equatorial band of open water.

The cloudinids, an early metazoan family containing the genera Acuticocloudina, Cloudina and Conotubus, lived in the late Ediacaran period about 550 million years ago. and became extinct at the base of the Cambrian. They formed millimetre-scale conical fossils consisting of calcareous cones nested within one another; the appearance of the organism itself remains unknown. The name Cloudina honors the 20th-century geologist and paleontologist Preston Cloud.

Proterozoic Third eon of the geologic timescale, last eon of the Precambrian Supereon

The Proterozoic is a geological eon spanning the time interval from 2500 to 538.8 million years ago. It is the most recent part of the Precambrian "supereon." It is also the longest eon of the Earth's geologic time scale, and it is subdivided into three geologic eras : the Paleoproterozoic, Mesoproterozoic, and Neoproterozoic.

<i>Dickinsonia</i> Extinct genus of early animals

Dickinsonia is an extinct genus of basal animal that lived during the late Ediacaran period in what is now Australia, China, India, Russia and Ukraine. The individual Dickinsonia typically resembles a bilaterally symmetrical ribbed oval. Its affinities are presently unknown; its mode of growth is consistent with a stem-group bilaterian affinity, though some have suggested that it belongs to the fungi, or even an "extinct kingdom". The discovery of cholesterol molecules in fossils of Dickinsonia lends support to the idea that Dickinsonia was an animal.

Doushantuo Formation

The Doushantuo Formation is a fossil Lagerstätte in Weng'an County, Guizhou Province, China that is notable for being one of the oldest beds to contain minutely preserved microfossils, phosphatic fossils that are so characteristic they have given their name to "Doushantuo type preservation". The formation is of particular interest because a part of it appears to cover the boundary between the enigmatic organisms of the Ediacaran geological period and the more familiar fauna of the Cambrian explosion where lifeforms recognizable as ancestors of later and recent lifeforms first emerged. Taken as a whole, the Doushantuo Formation ranges from about 635 Ma at its base to about 551 Ma at its top, predating by perhaps five Ma the earliest of the 'classical' Ediacaran faunas from Mistaken Point on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland, and recording conditions up to a good forty to fifty million years before the Cambrian explosion.

The Cryogenian is a geologic period that lasted from 720 to 635 million years ago. It forms the second geologic period of the Neoproterozoic Era, preceded by the Tonian Period and followed by the Ediacaran.

Vendobionta Group of extinct creatures that were part of the Ediacaran biota

Vendobionts or Vendozoans (Vendobionta) are a group of benthic beings made up of the majority of extinct creatures that were part of the Ediacaran biota. It is a hypothetical group and at the same time, it would be the oldest of the animals that populated the Earth about 580 million years ago, in the Ediacaran or Vendic period. They became extinct when the so-called Cambrian explosion appeared, with the introduction of fauna formed by more recognizable groups and more related to modern animals. It is very likely that it isn't a monophyletic clade and not every genus placed in its subtaxa is an animal.

<i>Yorgia</i> Extinct species of disc-shaped organism

Yorgia waggoneri is a discoid Ediacaran organism. It has a low, segmented body consisting of a short wide "head", no appendages, and a long body region, reaching a maximum length of 25 cm (9.8 in). It is classified within the extinct animal phylum Proarticulata.

<i>Ediacaria</i> Genus of cnidarians

Ediacaria is a fossil genus dating to the Ediacaran Period of the Neoproterozoic Era. Unlike most Ediacaran biota, which disappeared almost entirely from the fossil record at the end of the Period, Ediacaria fossils have been found dating from the Baikalian age of the Upper Riphean to 501 million years ago, well into the Cambrian Period. Ediacaria consists of concentric rough circles, radial lines between the circles and a central dome, with a diameter from 1 to 70 cm.

<i>Cephalonega</i> Extinct genus of invertebrates

Cephalonega stepanovi is a fossil organism from Ediacaran deposits of the Arkhangelsk Region, Russia. It was described by Mikhail A. Fedonkin in 1976

Ediacaran biota All organisms of the Ediacaran Period (c. 635–541 Mya)

The Ediacaranbiota is a taxonomic period classification that consists of all life forms that were present on Earth during the Ediacaran Period. These were composed of enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped, mostly sessile, organisms. Trace fossils of these organisms have been found worldwide, and represent the earliest known complex multicellular organisms.

Riphean (stage)

The Riphean is a stage or age of the geologic timescale from 1,600 to 650 million years ago. The name Riphean is used in the Proterozoic stratigraphy of Russia and the Fennoscandian Shield in Finland. It was also used in a number of older international geologic timescales but, in the most recent timescales of the ICS, it is replaced by the Calymmian, Ectasian, Stenian, Tonian and Cryogenian periods of the Neoproterozoic and Mesoproterozoic eras.

The Cambrian explosion, Cambrian radiation,Cambrian diversification, or The Biological Big Bang refers to an interval of time approximately 541 million years ago in the Cambrian Period when practically all major animal phyla started appearing in the fossil record. It lasted for about 13 – 25 million years and resulted in the divergence of most modern metazoan phyla. The event was accompanied by major diversification in other groups of organisms as well.


Eoandromeda is an Ediacaran organism consisting of eight radial spiral arms, and known from two taphonomic modes: the standard Ediacara type preservation in Australia, and as carbonaceous compressions from the Doushantuo formation of China, where it is abundant.

This timeline of natural history summarizes significant geological and biological events from the formation of the Earth to the arrival of modern humans. Times are listed in millions of years, or megaanni (Ma).

Calyptrina striata is an extinct Ediacaran organism with a worm-like shape consisting of a series of regularly spaced transverse lines. The organism is preserved as a flat carbonaceous organic shadow left behind by the organisms' soft parts. Specimens have been found and documented in two locations, one being Southeast China and the other Northern Russia When they were preserved during the Neoproterozoic the areas were covered in a shallow marine environment that allowed for the preservation of Calyptrina.


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