4600–541 million years ago
The Precambrian (or Pre-Cambrian, sometimes abbreviated pЄ, or Cryptozoic) 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 Precambrian (colored green in the timeline figure) is an informal unit of geologic time, 541 million years ago (Ma), when hard-shelled creatures first appeared in abundance.subdivided into three eons (Hadean, Archean, Proterozoic) of the geologic time scale. It spans from the formation of Earth about 4.6 billion years ago (Ga) to the beginning of the Cambrian Period, about
Relatively little is known about the Precambrian, despite it making up roughly seven-eighths of the Earth's history, and what is known has largely been discovered from the 1960s onwards. The Precambrian fossil record is poorer than that of the succeeding Phanerozoic, and fossils from the Precambrian (e.g. stromatolites) are of limited biostratigraphic use.This is because many Precambrian rocks have been heavily metamorphosed, obscuring their origins, while others have been destroyed by erosion, or remain deeply buried beneath Phanerozoic strata.
It is thought that the Earth coalesced from material in orbit around the Sun at roughly 4,543 Ma, and may have been struck by a very large (Mars-sized) planetesimal shortly after it formed, splitting off material that formed the Moon (see Giant impact hypothesis). A stable crust was apparently in place by 4,433 Ma, since zircon crystals from Western Australia have been dated at 4,404 ± 8 Ma.
The term "Precambrian" is recognized by the International Commission on Stratigraphy as the only "supereon" in geologic time;[ citation needed ] it is so-called because it includes the Hadean (~4.6–4 billion), Archean (4–2.5 billion), and Proterozoic (2.5 billion—541 million) eons. (There is only one other eon: the Phanerozoic, 541 million-present.) "Precambrian" is still used by geologists and paleontologists for general discussions not requiring the more specific eon names. As of 2010 [update] , the United States Geological Survey considers the term informal, lacking a stratigraphic rank.
A specific date for the origin of life has not been determined. Carbon found in 3.8 billion-year-old rocks (Archean eon) from islands off western Greenland may be of organic origin. Well-preserved microscopic fossils of bacteria older than 3.46 billion years have been found in Western Australia.Probable fossils 100 million years older have been found in the same area. However, there is evidence that life could have evolved over 4.280 billion years ago. There is a fairly solid record of bacterial life throughout the remainder (Proterozoic eon) of the Precambrian.
Excluding a few contested reports of much older forms from North America and India, the first complex multicellular life forms seem to have appeared at roughly 1500 Ma, in the Mesoproterozoic era of the Proterozoic eon.[ citation needed ] Fossil evidence from the later Ediacaran period of such complex life comes from the Lantian formation, at least 580 million years ago. A very diverse collection of soft-bodied forms is found in a variety of locations worldwide and date to between 635 and 542 Ma. These are referred to as Ediacaran or Vendian biota. Hard-shelled creatures appeared toward the end of that time span, marking the beginning of the Phanerozoic eon. By the middle of the following Cambrian period, a very diverse fauna is recorded in the Burgess Shale, including some which may represent stem groups of modern taxa. The increase in diversity of lifeforms during the early Cambrian is called the Cambrian explosion of life.
While land seems to have been devoid of plants and animals, cyanobacteria and other microbes formed prokaryotic mats that covered terrestrial areas.
Tracks from an animal with leg like appendages have been found in what was mud 551 million years ago.
Evidence of the details of plate motions and other tectonic activity in the Precambrian has been poorly preserved. It is generally believed that small proto-continents existed prior to 4280 Ma, and that most of the Earth's landmasses collected into a single supercontinent around 1130 Ma. The supercontinent, known as Rodinia, broke up around 750 Ma. A number of glacial periods have been identified going as far back as the Huronian epoch, roughly 2400–2100 Ma. One of the best studied is the Sturtian-Varangian glaciation, around 850–635 Ma, which may have brought glacial conditions all the way to the equator, resulting in a "Snowball Earth".
The atmosphere of the early Earth is not well understood. Most geologists believe it was composed primarily of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other relatively inert gases, and was lacking in free oxygen. There is, however, evidence that an oxygen-rich atmosphere existed since the early Archean.
At present, it is still believed that molecular oxygen was not a significant fraction of Earth's atmosphere until after photosynthetic life forms evolved and began to produce it in large quantities as a byproduct of their metabolism. This radical shift from a chemically inert to an oxidizing atmosphere caused an ecological crisis, sometimes called the oxygen catastrophe. At first, oxygen would have quickly combined with other elements in Earth's crust, primarily iron, removing it from the atmosphere. After the supply of oxidizable surfaces ran out, oxygen would have begun to accumulate in the atmosphere, and the modern high-oxygen atmosphere would have developed. Evidence for this lies in older rocks that contain massive banded iron formations that were laid down as iron oxides.
A terminology has evolved covering the early years of the Earth's existence, as radiometric dating has allowed real dates to be assigned to specific formations and features. 4600–4000 Ma), Archean (4000-2500 Ma) and Proterozoic (2500-541 Ma). See Timetable of the Precambrian.The Precambrian is divided into three eons: the Hadean (
It has been proposed that the Precambrian should be divided into eons and eras that reflect stages of planetary evolution, rather than the current scheme based upon numerical ages. Such a system could rely on events in the stratigraphic record and be demarcated by GSSPs. The Precambrian could be divided into five "natural" eons, characterized as follows:
The movement of Earth's plates has caused the formation and break-up of continents over time, including occasional formation of a supercontinent containing most or all of the landmass. The earliest known supercontinent was Vaalbara. It formed from proto-continents and was a supercontinent 3.636 billion years ago. Vaalbara broke up c. 2.845–2.803 Ga ago. The supercontinent Kenorland was formed c. 2.72 Ga ago and then broke sometime after 2.45–2.1 Ga into the proto-continent cratons called Laurentia, Baltica, Yilgarn craton, and Kalahari. The supercontinent Columbia or Nuna formed 2.06–1.82 billion years ago and broke up about 1.5–1.35 billion years ago. [ failed verification ] The supercontinent Rodinia is thought to have formed about 1.13–1.071 billion years ago, to have embodied most or all of Earth's continents and to have broken up into eight continents around 750–600 million years ago.
The geologic time scale (GTS) is a system of chronological dating that relates geological strata (stratigraphy) to time. It is used by geologists, paleontologists, and other Earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships of events that have occurred during Earth's history. The table of geologic time spans, presented here, agree with the nomenclature, dates and standard color codes set forth by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).
The Neoproterozoic Era is the unit of geologic time from.
The PaleozoicEra is the earliest of three geologic eras of the Phanerozoic Eon. It is the longest of the Phanerozoic eras, lasting from, and is subdivided into six geologic periods : the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian. The Paleozoic comes after the Neoproterozoic Era of the Proterozoic Eon and is followed by the Mesozoic Era.
In geology, a supercontinent is the assembly of most or all of Earth's continental blocks or cratons to form a single large landmass. However, some earth scientists use a different definition: "a grouping of formerly dispersed continents", which leaves room for interpretation and is easier to apply to Precambrian times, although a minimum of about 75% of the continental crust then in existence has been proposed as a limit to separate supercontinents from other groupings.
The Hadean is a geologic eon of the Earth pre-dating the Archean. It began with the formation of the Earth about 4.6 billion years ago and ended, as defined by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), 4 billion years ago. As of 2016, the ICS describes its status as "informal". Geologist Preston Cloud coined the term in 1972, originally to label the period before the earliest-known rocks on Earth. W. Brian Harland later coined an almost synonymous term, the "Priscoan period", from priscus, the Latin word for "ancient". Other, older texts refer to the eon as the Pre-Archean.
The Proterozoic is a geological eon spanning the time from the appearance of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere to just before the proliferation of complex life on the Earth. The name Proterozoic combines the two forms of ultimately Greek origin: protero- meaning "former, earlier", and -zoic, a suffix related to zoe "life". The Proterozoic Eon extended from 2500 mya to 541 mya, and is the most recent part of the Precambrian "supereon." The Proterozoic is the longest eon of the Earth's geologic time scale and it is subdivided into three geologic eras : the Paleoproterozoic, Mesoproterozoic, and Neoproterozoic.
The Archean Eon is one of the four geologic eons of Earth history, occurring. During the Archean, the Earth's crust had cooled enough to allow the formation of continents and life began its development.
Kenorland was one of the earliest known supercontinents on Earth. It is thought to have formed during the Neoarchaean Era c. 2.72 billion years ago (2.78Ga) by the accretion of Neoarchaean cratons and the formation of new continental crust. It comprised what later became Laurentia, Baltica, Western Australia and Kalaharia.
The Eoarchean is the first era of the Archean Eon of the geologic record for which the Earth has a solid crust. It spans 400 million years from the end of the Hadean Eon 4 billion years ago to the start of the Paleoarchean Era 3600 Mya. The beginnings of life on Earth have been dated to this era and evidence of cyanobacteria date to 3500 Mya, just outside this era. At that time, the atmosphere was without oxygen and the pressure values ranged from 10 to 100 bar.
The history of Earth concerns the development of planet Earth from its formation to the present day. Nearly all branches of natural science have contributed to understanding of the main events of Earth's past, characterized by constant geological change and biological evolution.
The Kaapvaal Craton, along with the Pilbara Craton of Western Australia, are the only remaining areas of pristine 3.6–2.5 Ga crust on Earth. Similarities of rock records from both these cratons, especially of the overlying late Archean sequences, suggest that they were once part of the Vaalbara supercontinent.
The North China Craton is a continental crustal block with one of Earth's most complete and complex records of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic processes. It is located in northeast China, Inner Mongolia, the Yellow Sea, and North Korea. The term craton designates this as a piece of continent that is stable, buoyant and rigid. Basic properties of the cratonic crust include being thick, relatively cold when compared to other regions, and low density. The North China Craton is an ancient craton, which experienced a long period of stability and fitted the definition of a craton well. However, the North China Craton later experienced destruction of some of its deeper parts (decratonization), which means that this piece of continent is no longer as stable.
The geological history of Earth follows the major events in Earth's past based on the geological time scale, a system of chronological measurement based on the study of the planet's rock layers (stratigraphy). Earth formed about 4.54 billion years ago by accretion from the solar nebula, a disk-shaped mass of dust and gas left over from the formation of the Sun, which also created the rest of the Solar System.
Laurentia or the North American Craton is a large continental craton that forms the ancient geological core of North America. Many times in its past, Laurentia has been a separate continent, as it is now in the form of North America, although originally it also included the cratonic areas of Greenland and also the northwestern part of Scotland, known as the Hebridean Terrane. During other times in its past, Laurentia has been part of larger continents and supercontinents and itself consists of many smaller terranes assembled on a network of Early Proterozoic orogenic belts. Small microcontinents and oceanic islands collided with and sutured onto the ever-growing Laurentia, and together formed the stable Precambrian craton seen today.
The West African Craton (WAC) is one of the five cratons of the Precambrian basement rock of Africa that make up the African Plate, the others being the Kalahari craton, Congo craton, Saharan Metacraton and Tanzania Craton. Cratons themselves are tectonically inactive, but can occur near active margins, with the WAC extending across 14 countries in Western African, coming together in the late Precambrian and early Palaeozoic eras to form the African continent. It consists of two Archean centers juxtaposed against multiple Paleoproterozoic domains made of greenstone belts, sedimentary basins, regional granitoid-tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite (TTG) plutons, and large shear zones. The craton is overlain by Neoproterozoic and younger sedimentary basins. The boundaries of the WAC are predominantly defined by a combination of geophysics and surface geology, with additional constraints by the geochemistry of the region. At one time, volcanic action around the rim of the craton may have contributed to a major global warming event.
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).
The Aravalli Mountain Range is a northeast-southwest trending orogenic belt in the northwest part of India and is part of the Indian Shield that was formed from a series of cratonic collisions. The Aravalli Mountains consist of the Aravalli and Delhi fold belts, and are collectively known as the Aravalli-Delhi orogenic belt. The whole mountain range is about 700 km long. Unlike the much younger Himalayan section nearby, the Aravalli Mountains are much older that can be traced back to the Proterozoic Eon. The collision between the Bundelkhand craton and the Marwar craton is believed to be the primary mechanism for the development of the mountain range.
The geology of Eswatini formed beginning 3.6 billion years ago, in the Archean Eon of the Precambrian. Eswatini is the only country entirely underlain by the Kaapvaal Craton, one of the oldest pieces of stable continental crust and the only craton regarded as "pristine" by geologists, other than the Yilgarn Craton in Australia. As such, the country has very ancient granite, gneiss and in some cases sedimentary rocks from the Archean into the Proterozoic, overlain by sedimentary rocks and igneous rocks formed during the last 541 million years of the Phanerozoic as part of the Karoo Supergroup. Intensive weathering has created thick zones of saprolite and heavily weathered soils.
The geology of Newfoundland and Labrador includes basement rocks formed as part of the Grenville Province in the west and Labrador and the Avalonian microcontinent in the east. Extensive tectonic changes, metamorphism and volcanic activity have formed the region throughout Earth history.
The Eastern Block of the North China Craton is one of the Earth's oldest pieces of continent. It is separated from the Western Block by the Trans-North China Orogen. It is situated in northeastern China and North Korea. The Block contains rock exposures older than 2.5 billion years. It serves as an ideal place to study how the crust was formed in the past and the related tectonic settings.
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