1. Tara Mobley says

    I had a dinosaur book as a kid with a two page spread as a timeline that started only as recently as the Triassic. It squeezed everything from that to present day onto those two pages, condensing the entire existance of modern man down to a 1mm width line, or maybe it was 2mm. This is even cooler and gives me an even better understanding of how little time we’ve been here compared to, say, eukaryotes.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jeremy says

    Very cool. Bookmarked.

    One question: When I was eight years old and obsessed with dinosaurs, most of my books separated the age of the dinosaurs into the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous eras. There’s no Cretaceous on that page. Has there been some renaming of the eras in the last ten or fifteen years?

  3. says

    Great idea. Some irritating comments on the bottom of the page, though:

    Evolution is not a fact; it is a scientific theory, but the theory is well supported by abundant facts.

    Someone’s going to use that as ammunition. Isn’t a scientific theory supposed to be as close to a fact as you can get?

    I acknowledge that there is an amazing life force in the Universe, and I am sure it is not limited by our inability to comprehend it. Personally, I think the process of evolution emphasizes the magnificance of life-energy, or creationary power. Call it whatever you like.

    Ohhhhhhh brother.

  4. says

    I’ve considered making a similar page that similarly laid out the dimensions of the solar system on a single very long web page.

  5. Jeremy says

    fwiffo: When I was in sixth grade, our science teacher took us down to the soccer field to illustrate the solar system to scale. I think he used a soccer ball as the sun. He put it in the corner, then marked of so many steps and put a little pebble down as Mercury, then more steps and put down a slightly larger pebble as Venus, then a lot more steps and put down Earth, then about twice as many steps as that and Mars… eventually we had gone across two soccer fields and we were at Saturn. And Pluto would have been halfway across town.

  6. says

    Great idea, but it would be better without the goofy “Evolution is not a fact” tag at the bottom. Like that was helpful.

  7. Ollie says

    Evolution *isn’t* a fact? A fact, as best I understand it, is something that is observably true. Such as, say, the sun rose yesterday. Anybody awake at the time would verify it for themselves. “The sun will rise tomorrow,” is not quite a fact, since we can’t observe it right now, but it does make for a pretty solid statement.

  8. snorkle says

    If you look very carefully on the rightmost side of the page, you can see where pygmies and dwarfs first appeared.

  9. says

    Note to Opera users:

    Page doesn’t render correctly. You’ll have to fire up something else. Otherwise, it appears that humans and eukaryotes begin at the same pixel.

  10. BJN says

    Pushing the color bars into the “future” to make space for labels makes the timeline for us and other recent species look a lot longer than it really is. The non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, the birds extend the dinosaur timeline right up to today.

  11. John says

    Hmmm…a “vertical” format would be more preferable to me…I hate scrolling across. Very nicely done, though.

  12. says

    That evolution occured is simply a fact. If you want to split hairs, the ideas describing how it occured are the theory.

  13. Patrick says

    BJN: As he says, the right side of the chart is screwed up in everything that’s not Firefox. He’s right. The bars don’t extend to fit the labels in Firefox, so everything lines up fine.

  14. C says

    Cool idea. No time-scale shows up in my browser. A few pictures might help. And why so much detail around homo sapiens? Why not cephalopods?

  15. Alan says

    I did something similar with the age of the Earth using Excel and showing all of the eras, periods and epochs.

    It printed on multiple sheets which I taped together and wrapped around my office wall. Only in the last inch or so did it expose the Quarternary epoch (about now to 1.8 millions years ago). Then I printed off a human evolution timeline from the web and drew lines to show that it all fits within that tiny inch of space.

    This was after having some discussions with co-workers about evolution – I thought most people don’t appreciate how long 5 billion years is.

    On a tangent – I use this analogy to instruct people on the difference between 1 million and 1 billion: I tell someone that 1 million seconds is about 11.5 days, and then ask them to guess on gut feel (without calculating) how long 1 billion seconds is, they usually guess a few hundred days or several years. Most are shocked to find out that a billion seconds is over 32 years!

  16. says

    I thought evolution was a fact and a theory? And yeah, the text is screwed up in Firefox, but besides the awkward fluff at the bottom— it’s really neat. Solar system: wow, I didn’t know Mercury was microscopic compared to the Sun. Or that I just couldn’t see it… at all.

  17. says

    I appreciate the corrections about the comments I offered on my timeline. It’s true: evolution is a fact. I have rewritten those comments and hopefully clarified the distinction between evolution and the theory behind it. I was in a hurry; maybe I’ll improve those comments further.

  18. CMD says

    I know this isn’t a sexy cephalopod fact (and I know that Steve is building on another’s data), but I’m a bit confused to see Ramapithecus in the timeline. That genus has been done away with as it reflects a quite distant time when we thought that humans would have diverged from apes much, much earlier. The fossils have been reassigned to Sivapithecus, which is considered to be the orangutan ancestor. On a similar note, the “Chimp and Human lineages” diverge is put at a point nearly 15 million years too early.

    But carry on, I know none of you even believes in mammals, let alone stinky hominids.

  19. craig says

    My mouse pad wasn’t wide enough to get me out of Prokaryotes:(

    Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes, and little lambsy-divey.

  20. says

    Thanks for the link — I sent it to my (geology professor) father.

    The space one is neat, too — kind of scary how big the solar system is, but I’m weird that way. It needs some visible scale, though, since otherwise it’s just click-click-click on the bar at the bottom with no reference points.

  21. says

    What I want to see is a tree of life with the time scale on the vertical, species branching out the way they do, and the thickness of each branch proportional to the biomass of each population.

  22. says

    Wow…that’s really interesting. Thanks for the link!

    It just goes to show you – as speciocentric as we are, we’re less than the blink of an eye on the evolutionary timescale. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but my biology professor once gave an analogy comparing the evolutionary timescale to a 24-hour day. As I recall, humans appeared about 12 seconds to midnight.

  23. James R says

    Very nice. It reminds me of when I was in Boise ID. The Discovery center(?) I think. They have a solar system model walking tour. 1/2 meter sun at the center and then planets are scaled and set in plaques along the river trail. The earth is smaller than a pea and Pluto is just a dot on the plaque and is 1.5 miles away. They say the nearest star woud be in excess of 9,000 miles or about to the south pole. It sure puts things into perspective to make a pixel =30,000 yrs. No wonder I feel so old.

  24. aiabx says

    How come I couldn’t find PYGMYS and DWARFS on the chart?

    It is a really cool chart, and really gives you a sense of how long mankind has been around; not very!

  25. G. Tingey says

    There is another Solar-System walk in England, South of York, using the track of the abandoned main-line railway ( They built a new, higher-speed one to the West )

    Better, still, at the South end of the walk is the Pub at the edge of the Solar System.

    You may have to Google for references, since I’ve lost mine ….

  26. says

    Of course, then there’s the toilet paper timeline!

    The earth is over 5 billion years old. Life first originated in the oceans 3.4 billion years ago. The dinosaurs died out 65 million years in the past. Human recorded history stretches back 10,000 years in time.

    These numbers are too large to visualize, and difficult to compare. Here’s an easy way to put time in perspective, and actually visualize different eras in the earth’s history. You’ll need a roll of toilet paper, a long hallway, and some sticky notes.

    Unroll the full roll of toilet paper down the hallway. We found that our roll contained 400 squares, and each square was slightly over 11 cm long.

    The earth is about 5 billion years old. That makes each toilet paper square equivalent to 12.5 million years; each billion years of earth’s history takes up 80 squares of toilet paper.

    On this scale, one year is represented by 0.00000088 cm … a width too tiny to see. But we can certainly visualize the past 10,000 years of recorded history on this scale, and compare it to the other events in earth’s history.

  27. outeast says

    Nice… not sure about the (seeming) definition of eukaryotes as ‘multicelled organisms’ though – what does that make yeast?

  28. Jeebus says

    If a YEC made a timeline on a similar scale, it would only be about 600 microns in length!

  29. says

    “If a YEC made a timeline on a similar scale…”

    Yes, and it, too, would be made out of toilet paper, but it would be used. And an ice-cube would be sitting on one end of it. And a nearby heat lamp would be trained on it. And — sitting off to one side, with a sign above his head that read, “Intelligent Designer” — completely oblivious, there would be an old man, snoring like thunder.

  30. Bruce says

    Apparently, the Creator procrastinated as much as I did in college, doing all the work at the last moment.

  31. MarkF says

    This is a good version of this idea. I’m thinking we need to set up a timeline like this in the hallway next year at BSU. One grouse: as usual, once you’re past the eukaryote origins, the ages and main events are all about ANIMALS. Doesn’t anybody ever remember that none of this happens without autotrophs?!?

  32. says

    @ Bruce – I don’t think the Creator was goofing-off, e.g. It was pretty productive during the Cambrian explosion.
    @ MarkF – autotrophs?!? Sorry, I don’t remember them, but then, I studied zoology in college.

  33. Hooter says

    It’s kinda funny when some avid supporters say “it’s not a fact”. What does that tell ya? It tells me that a few people are smart enough to know the difference.

  34. says

    I’m also a bit curious about how the different sorts of plants would fit on there. (Here’s a rolled up newspaper you people can use on me in case “autotrophs” is a fancy word for “plants”)

    Didn’t grass originate after the dinosaurs, or something like that?

  35. says

    @Steve: “MarkF – autotrophs?!?”

    Sorry. Basically, I meant plants. I use the fancy word autotrophs (organisms that manufacture their own food from physical energy sources) to cover the fact that the so-called “algae” are about as related to other things that people call plants as they are to fungi and multicellular animals.

    As of an hour ago, Dann Siems and I are working on a proposal to place a physical time line, from 4.5 b.y. to the present, in the main hallway of Sattgast Hall on the Bemidji State University campus. We have around 50 meters to play with. Tentative design: the line is painted on the floor, with time intervals labeled on the wall at the edge of the floor, and we put up plexiglas fronted signs (easily moved and changed – scientific knowledge is tentative and subject to revision, after all) to indicate major events in the earth’s history. We want it in-your-face and obvious every single time anybody walks in the building. We have until May 1 to come up with a proposal to the BSU foundation. The timeline will, of course, include plants…

  36. says

    It’s a pity that they didn’t use the results from molecular clock methods to to date the appearance of various groups of prokaryotes and early eukaryotes — there’s an unfortunate tendency among zoologists and botanists to assume that nothing interesting was going on prior to the development of multicellular life and charts like this one which just give one “prokaryotic” and later “eukaryotic” lineage tend to reinforce this misconception.

    Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes, and little lambsy-divey.

    But on a lighter note, to follow up on craigs’ doggerel — I’d like to share a couple of definitions that I remember being told as an undergrad:

    Prokaryote: The act of having your pizza delivered to your door.
    Eukaryote: The act of bringing home the pizza yourself.

  37. James R says

    Mark F;
    That sounds like a great project. You could end your time line with a Hubble view into space and show our future. And you could also add an additional creationist line 6,000 yrs of their bibles history with corrections of what really happened. But terminate this timeline the way they say it will happen. Armeggedon, Nuclear war, death, pestilence, etc. Put a face to their claims.
    Sounds like fun no matter what you come up with. Good luck.