Last updated
Age (Ma)
Neogene Miocene Aquitanian younger
Paleogene Oligocene Chattian 23.0327.82
Rupelian 27.8233.9
Eocene Priabonian 33.937.8
Bartonian 37.841.2
Lutetian 41.247.8
Ypresian 47.856.0
Paleocene Thanetian 56.059.2
Selandian 59.261.6
Danian 61.666.0
Cretaceous Upper/
Maastrichtian older
Subdivision of the Paleogene Period
according to the ICS, as of 2017. [1]

The Paleocene ( /ˈpæliəˌsn, ˈpæ-, -li-/ [2] ) or Palaeocene, the "old recent", is a geological epoch that lasted from about 66 to 56 million years ago. It is the first epoch of the Paleogene Period in the modern Cenozoic Era. As with many geologic periods, the strata that define the epoch's beginning and end are well identified, but the exact ages remain uncertain.

In geochronology, an epoch is a subdivision of the geologic timescale that is longer than an age but shorter than a period. The current epoch is the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period. Rock layers deposited during an epoch are called a series. Series are subdivisions of the stratigraphic column that, like epochs, are subdivisions of the geologic timescale. Like other geochronological divisions, epochs are normally separated by significant changes in the rock layers to which they correspond.

The Paleogene is a geologic period and system that spans 43 million years from the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago (Mya) to the beginning of the Neogene Period 23.03 Mya. It is the beginning of the Cenozoic Era of the present Phanerozoic Eon. The Paleogene is most notable for being the time during which mammals diversified from relatively small, simple forms into a large group of diverse animals in the wake of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event that ended the preceding Cretaceous Period. The United States Geological Survey uses the abbreviation PE for the Paleogene, but the more commonly used abbreviation is PG with the PE being used for Paleocene.

The Cenozoic Era meaning "new life", is the current and most recent of the three Phanerozoic geological eras, following the Mesozoic Era and extending from 66 million years ago to the present day.


The Paleocene Epoch is bracketed by two major events in Earth's history. It started with the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous, known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) boundary. This was a time marked by the demise of non-avian dinosaurs, giant marine reptiles and much other fauna and flora. The die-off of the dinosaurs left unfilled ecological niches worldwide. The Paleocene ended with the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, a geologically brief (~0.2 million year) interval characterized by extreme changes in climate and carbon cycling.

Extinction event Widespread and rapid decrease in the biodiversity on Earth

An extinction event is a widespread and rapid decrease in the biodiversity on Earth. Such an event is identified by a sharp change in the diversity and abundance of multicellular organisms. It occurs when the rate of extinction increases with respect to the rate of speciation. Estimates of the number of major mass extinctions in the last 540 million years range from as few as five to more than twenty. These differences stem from the threshold chosen for describing an extinction event as "major", and the data chosen to measure past diversity.

The Cretaceous is a geologic period and system that spans 79 million years from the end of the Jurassic Period 145 million years ago (mya) to the beginning of the Paleogene Period 66 mya. It is the last period of the Mesozoic Era, and the longest period of the Phanerozoic Eon. The Cretaceous Period is usually abbreviated K, for its German translation Kreide.

Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary

The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) boundary, formerly known as the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K-T) boundary, is a geological signature, usually a thin band of rock. K, the first letter of the German word Kreide (chalk), is the traditional abbreviation for the Cretaceous Period and Pg is the abbreviation for the Paleogene Period.

The name "Paleocene" comes from Ancient Greek and refers to the "old(er)" (παλαιός, palaios) "new" (καινός, kainos) fauna that arose during the epoch. [3]

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE

The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.

Boundaries and subdivisions

The K–Pg boundary that marks the separation between Cretaceous and Paleocene is visible in the geological record of much of the Earth by a discontinuity in the fossil fauna and high iridium levels. There is also fossil evidence of abrupt changes in flora and fauna. There is some evidence that a substantial but very short-lived climatic change may have happened in the very early decades of the Paleocene. There are several theories about the cause of the K–Pg extinction event, with most evidence supporting the impact of a 10 km diameter asteroid forming the buried Chicxulub crater on the coast of Yucatan, Mexico.

Iridium Chemical element with atomic number 77

Iridium is a chemical element with symbol Ir and atomic number 77. A very hard, brittle, silvery-white transition metal of the platinum group, iridium is the second-densest metal with a density of 22.56 g/cm3 as defined by experimental X-ray crystallography. At room temperature and standard atmospheric pressure, iridium has a density of 22.65 g/cm3, 0.04 g/cm3 higher than osmium measured the same way. It is the most corrosion-resistant metal, even at temperatures as high as 2000 °C. Although only certain molten salts and halogens are corrosive to solid iridium, finely divided iridium dust is much more reactive and can be flammable.

Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event Mass extinction event ending the Mesozoic Era

The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event, also known as the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) extinction, was a sudden mass extinction of some three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth, approximately 66 million years ago. With the exception of some ectothermic species such as the leatherback sea turtle and crocodiles, no tetrapods weighing more than 25 kilograms (55 lb) survived. It marked the end of the Cretaceous period and with it, the entire Mesozoic Era, opening the Cenozoic Era that continues today.

Diameter straight line segment that passes through the center of a circle

In geometry, a diameter of a circle is any straight line segment that passes through the center of the circle and whose endpoints lie on the circle. It can also be defined as the longest chord of the circle. Both definitions are also valid for the diameter of a sphere.

The end of the Paleocene (≈55.8 Ma) was also marked by a time of major change, one of the most significant periods of global change during the Cenozoic. [4] The Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum upset oceanic and atmospheric circulation and led to the extinction of numerous deep-sea benthic foraminifera and a major turnover in mammals on land.

Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum rapid (in geological terms) global warming, profound changes in ecosystems, and major perturbations in the carbon cycle which started about 55.0 million years ago

The Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), alternatively "Eocene thermal maximum 1" (ETM1), and formerly known as the "Initial Eocene" or "Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum", was a time period with more than 8 °C warmer global average temperature than today. This climate event began at the time boundary of the Paleogene, between the Paleocene and Eocene geological epochs. The exact age and duration of the event is uncertain but it is estimated to have occurred around 55.5 million years ago.

Foraminifera phylum of amoeboid protists

Foraminifera are members of a phylum or class of amoeboid protists characterized by streaming granular ectoplasm for catching food and other uses; and commonly an external shell of diverse forms and materials. Tests of chitin are believed to be the most primitive type. Most foraminifera are marine, the majority of which live on or within the seafloor sediment, while a smaller variety float in the water column at various depths. Fewer are known from freshwater or brackish conditions, and some very few (nonaquatic) soil species have been identified through molecular analysis of small subunit ribosomal DNA.

The Paleocene is divided into three stages, the Danian, the Selandian and the Thanetian, as shown in the table above. Additionally, the Paleocene is divided into six Mammal Paleogene zones.

The Danian is the oldest age or lowest stage of the Paleocene epoch or series, the Paleogene period or system and the Cenozoic era or erathem. The beginning of the Danian age is at the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 Ma. The age ended 61.6 Ma, being followed by the Selandian age.

The Selandian is in the geologic timescale an age or stage in the Paleocene. It spans the time between 61.6 and59.2 Ma. It is preceded by the Danian and followed by the Thanetian. Sometimes the Paleocene is subdivided in subepochs, in which the Selandian forms the "Middle Paleocene".

The Thanetian is, in the ICS Geologic timescale, the latest age or uppermost stratigraphic stage of the Paleocene Epoch or series. It spans the time between 59.2 and56 Ma. The Thanetian is preceded by the Selandian age and followed by the Ypresian age. The Thanetian is sometimes referred to as the Late Paleocene.


The early Paleocene was cooler and drier than the preceding Cretaceous, though temperatures rose sharply during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum. The climate became warm and humid worldwide towards the Eocene boundary, with subtropical vegetation growing in Greenland and Patagonia, crocodilians swimming off the coast of Greenland, and early primates evolving in the tropical palm forests of northern Wyoming. [5] The Earth's poles were cool and temperate; North America, Europe, Australia and southern South America were warm and temperate; equatorial areas had tropical climates; and north and south of the equatorial areas, climates were hot and arid, [6] not dissimilar to today's global desert belts around 30 degrees northern and southern latitude.


In many ways, the Paleocene continued processes that had begun during the late Cretaceous Period. During the Paleocene, the continents continued to drift toward their present positions. Supercontinent Laurasia had not yet separated into three continents - Europe and Greenland were still connected, North America and Asia were still intermittently joined by a land bridge, while Greenland and North America were beginning to separate. [7] The Laramide orogeny of the late Cretaceous continued to uplift the Rocky Mountains in the American west, which ended in the succeeding epoch.

South and North America remained separated by equatorial seas (they joined during the Neogene); the components of the former southern supercontinent Gondwanaland continued to split apart, with Africa, South America, Antarctica and Australia pulling away from each other. Africa was heading north towards Europe, slowly closing the Tethys Ocean, and India began its migration to Asia that would lead to a tectonic collision and the formation of the Himalayas.

The inland seas in North America (Western Interior Seaway) and Europe had receded by the beginning of the Paleocene, making way for new land-based flora and fauna.


Warm seas circulated throughout the world, including the poles. The earliest Paleocene featured a low diversity and abundance of marine life, but this trend reversed later in the epoch. [7] Tropical conditions gave rise to abundant marine life, including coral reefs. With the demise of marine reptiles at the end of the Cretaceous, sharks became the top predators. At the end of the Cretaceous, the ammonites and many species of foraminifera became extinct.

Marine fauna also came to resemble modern fauna, with only the marine mammals and the Carcharhinid sharks missing.


Terrestrial Paleocene strata immediately overlying the K–Pg boundary is in places marked by a "fern spike": a bed especially rich in fern fossils. [8] Ferns are often the first species to colonize areas damaged by forest fires; thus the fern spike may indicate post-Chicxulub crater devastation. [9]

In general, the Paleocene is marked by the development of modern plant species. Cacti and palm trees appeared. Paleocene and later plant fossils are generally attributed to modern genera or to closely related taxa.

The warm temperatures worldwide gave rise to thick tropical, sub-tropical and deciduous forest cover around the globe (the first recognizably modern rainforests) with ice-free polar regions covered with coniferous and deciduous trees. [7] With no large browsing dinosaurs to thin them, Paleocene forests were probably denser than those of the Cretaceous. [10]

Flowering plants (angiosperms), first seen in the Cretaceous, continued to develop and proliferate, and along with them coevolved the insects that fed on these plants and pollinated them.



Life restoration of Titanoides Titanoides.jpg
Life restoration of Titanoides

Mammals had first appeared in the Late Triassic, evolving from advanced cynodonts, and developed alongside the dinosaurs, exploiting ecological niches untouched by the larger and more famous Mesozoic animals: in the insect-rich forest underbrush and high up in the trees. These smaller mammals (as well as birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects) survived the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous which wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, and mammals diversified and spread throughout the world.

While early mammals were small nocturnal animals that mostly ate soft plant material and small animals such as insects, the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs and the beginning of the Paleocene saw mammals growing bigger and occupying a wider variety of ecological niches. Ten million years after the death of the non-avian dinosaurs, the world was filled with rodent-like mammals, medium-sized mammals scavenging in forests, and large herbivorous and carnivorous mammals hunting other mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Fossil evidence from the Paleocene is scarce, and there is relatively little known about mammals of the time. Because of their small size (constant until late in the epoch) early mammal bones are not well preserved in the fossil record, and most of what we know comes from fossil teeth (a much tougher substance), and only a few skeletons. [7]

The brain to body mass ratios of these archaic mammals were quite low. [11]

Mammals of the Paleocene include:


Section of an Asiatosuchus jaw Asiatosuchus.jpg
Section of an Asiatosuchus jaw

Because of the climatic conditions of the Paleocene, reptiles were more widely distributed over the globe than at present. Among the sub-tropical reptiles found in North America during this epoch are champsosaurs (fully aquatic reptiles), crocodilia, soft-shelled turtles, palaeophid snakes, varanid lizards, and Protochelydra zangerli (similar to modern snapping turtles).

Examples of champsosaurs of the Paleocene include Champsosaurus gigas, the largest champsosaur ever discovered. This creature was unusual among Paleocene non-squamate reptiles in that C. gigas became larger than its known Mesozoic ancestors: C. gigas is more than twice the length of the largest Cretaceous specimens (3 meters versus 1.5 meters). Another genus, Simoedosaurus , was similarly large; it appears rather suddenly in the fossil record, as its closest relatives occurred in the Early Cretaceous. Reptiles as a whole decreased in size after the K–Pg event. Champsosaurs declined towards the end of the Paleocene and became extinct during the Miocene.

Wannaganosuchus, a crocodilian from the Paleocene. Wannaganosuchus.jpg
Wannaganosuchus , a crocodilian from the Paleocene.

Examples of Paleocene crocodylians are Borealosuchus (formerly Leidyosuchus ) formidabilis, the apex predator and the largest animal of the Wannagan Creek fauna, and the alligatorid Wannaganosuchus .

Non-avian dinosaurs may have survived to some extent into the early Danian stage of the Paleocene Epoch circa 64.5 Mya. The controversial evidence for such is a hadrosaur leg bone found from Paleocene strata in New Mexico; [13] but such stray late forms may be derived fossils. [14]

Several species of snakes, such as Titanoboa and Gigantophis , grew to over 6 meters long. [15]


Gastornis Gastornis.jpg

Birds began to re-diversify during the epoch, occupying new niches. Genetic studies suggest that nearly all modern bird clades can trace their origin to this epoch, with Neornithes having undergone an extremely fast, "star-like" radiation of species in the early Palaeocene in response to the vacancy of niches left by the KT event. [16]

Large flightless birds have been found in late Paleocene deposits, including the omnivorous Gastornis in Europe and carnivorous terror birds in South America, the latter of which survived until the Pleistocene.

In the late Paleocene, early owl types appeared, such as Ogygoptynx in the United States and Berruornis in France.

Related Research Articles

Dinosaur Superorder of reptiles (fossil)

Dinosaurs are a diverse group of reptiles of the clade Dinosauria. They first appeared during the Triassic period, between 243 and 233.23 million years ago, although the exact origin and timing of the evolution of dinosaurs is the subject of active research. They became the dominant terrestrial vertebrates after the Triassic–Jurassic extinction event 201 million years ago; their dominance continued through the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Reverse genetic engineering and the fossil record both demonstrate that birds are modern feathered dinosaurs, having evolved from earlier theropods during the late Jurassic Period. As such, birds were the only dinosaur lineage to survive the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago. Dinosaurs can therefore be divided into avian dinosaurs, or birds; and non-avian dinosaurs, which are all dinosaurs other than birds. This article deals primarily with non-avian dinosaurs.

The Eocene Epoch, lasting from 56 to 33.9 million years ago, is a major division of the geologic timescale and the second epoch of the Paleogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Eocene spans the time from the end of the Paleocene Epoch to the beginning of the Oligocene Epoch. The start of the Eocene is marked by a brief period in which the concentration of the carbon isotope 13C in the atmosphere was exceptionally low in comparison with the more common isotope 12C. The end is set at a major extinction event called the Grande Coupure or the Eocene–Oligocene extinction event, which may be related to the impact of one or more large bolides in Siberia and in what is now Chesapeake Bay. As with other geologic periods, the strata that define the start and end of the epoch are well identified, though their exact dates are slightly uncertain.

The Mesozoic Era is an interval of geological time from about 252 to 66 million years ago. It is also called the Age of Reptiles and the Age of Conifers.

The Phanerozoic Eon is the current geologic eon in the geologic time scale, and the one during which abundant animal and plant life has existed. It covers 541 million years to the present, and began with the Cambrian Period when animals first developed hard shells preserved in the fossil record. Its name was derived from the Ancient Greek words φανερός and ζωή, meaning visible life, since it was once believed that life began in the Cambrian, the first period of this eon. The term "Phanerozoic" was coined in 1930 by the American geologist George Halcott Chadwick (1876–1953). The time before the Phanerozoic, called the Precambrian, is now divided into the Hadean, Archaean and Proterozoic eons.

The Late Cretaceous is the younger of two epochs into which the Cretaceous period is divided in the geologic timescale. Rock strata from this epoch form the Upper Cretaceous series. The Cretaceous is named after the white limestone known as chalk which occurs widely in northern France and is seen in the white cliffs of south-eastern England, and which dates from this time.

The Wannagan Creek site is a fossil site found just west of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park of North Dakota, USA. The site is Paleocene in age, approximately 60 million years old. Paleontologists of the Science Museum of Minnesota have studied the site for nearly thirty years. The site is thought to represent a paleoenviroment of subtropical swampy lowland and forests. Preservation is excellent for both the flora and fauna of the site. Trace fossils of crocodilians and other vertebrates have also been discovered.

Choristodera order of reptiles

Choristodera is an extinct order of semiaquatic diapsid reptiles that ranged from the Middle Jurassic, or possibly Late Triassic, to at least the early Miocene. It was named by Edward Drinker Cope in 1884. Choristoderes have been found in North America, Asia, and Europe, and possibly also North Africa and East Timor. The most common fossils are typically found from the Late Cretaceous to the lower Eocene. Cladists have placed them between basal diapsids and basal archosauromorphs, but the phylogenetic position of Choristodera is still uncertain. It has also been proposed that they represent basal lepidosauromorphs. Most recently, workers have placed Choristodera within Archosauromorpha.

The Maastrichtian is, in the ICS geologic timescale, the latest age of the Late Cretaceous epoch or Upper Cretaceous series, the Cretaceous period or system, and of the Mesozoic era or erathem. It spanned the interval from 72.1 to 66 million years ago. The Maastrichtian was preceded by the Campanian and succeeded by the Danian.

Hell Creek Formation formation

The Hell Creek Formation is an intensively-studied division of mostly Upper Cretaceous and some lower Paleocene rocks in North America, named for exposures studied along Hell Creek, near Jordan, Montana. The formation stretches over portions of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. In Montana, the Hell Creek Formation overlies the Fox Hills Formation. The site of Pompeys Pillar National Monument is a small isolated section of the Hell Creek Formation. In 1966, the Hell Creek Fossil Area was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

Seymour Island island

Seymour Island is an island in the chain of 16 major islands around the tip of the Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. Graham Land is the closest part of Antarctica to South America. It lies within the section of the island chain that resides off the west side of the peninsula's northernmost tip. Within that section, it is separated from Snow Hill Island by Picnic Passage, and sits just east of the larger key, James Ross Island, and its smaller, neighboring island, Vega Island.

The term Paleocene dinosaurs describes families or genera of non-avian dinosaurs that may have survived the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, which occurred 66 million years ago. Although almost all evidence indicated that birds are the only dinosaur group that survived past the K–Pg boundary, there is some scattered evidence that some non-avian dinosaurs lived for a short period of time during the Paleocene epoch. The evidence for Paleocene non-avian dinosaurs is rare and remains controversial, although at least one non-neornithine ornithuran, Qinornis, is known from the Paleocene.

Natural history of New Zealand

The natural history of New Zealand begins when Zealandia broke away from Gondwana in the Cretaceous, before that time it shared its past with Australia and Antarctica. Since this separation the New Zealand biota and landscape has evolved in near isolation from the rest of the world. The exclusively natural history ends in about 1300 AD when humans first settled in New Zealand and the environmental history begins. This short period from 1300 AD till today coincides with the extinction of many of the unique species which evolved over New Zealand's natural history.

The climate across the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary is very important to geologic time as it marks a catastrophic global extinction event. Numerous theories have been proposed as to why this extinction event happened including an asteroid known as the Chicxulub asteroid, volcanism, or sea level changes. While the mass extinction is well documented, there is much debate about the immediate and long-term climatic and environmental changes caused by the event. The terrestrial climates at this time are poorly known, which limits the understanding of environmentally driven changes in biodiversity that occurred before the Chicxulub crater impact. Oxygen isotopes across the K–T boundary suggest that oceanic temperatures fluctuated in the Late Cretaceous and through the boundary itself. Carbon isotope measurements of benthic foramifinera at the K–T boundary suggest rapid, repeated fluctuations in oceanic productivity in the 3 million years before the final extinction, and that productivity and ocean circulation ended abruptly for at least tens of thousands of years just after the boundary, indicating devastation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Some researchers suggest that climate change is the main connection between the impact and the extinction. The impact perturbed the climate system with long-term effects that were much worse than the immediate, direct consequences of the impact.

Ouled Abdoun Basin

The Oulad Abdoun Basin is a phosphate sedimentary basin located in Morocco, near the city of Khouribga. It is the largest in Morocco, comprising 44% of Morocco's phosphate reserves, and at least 26.8 billion tons of phosphate. It is also known as an important site for vertebrate fossils, with deposits ranging from the Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian-Turonian) to the Eocene epoch (Ypresian), a period of about 25 million years.


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