Science, Tech, Math › Science Geologic Time Scale: Eons and Eras A Broad View of Geologic Time Share Flipboard Email Print Stromatolites in Shark Bay, Australia. Stromatolites are Earth's oldest fossils, first appearing in the fossil record during the early Archean Eon. Terry Carter / Dorling Kindersley Collection / Getty Images Science Geology Types Of Rocks Landforms and Geologic Features Geologic Processes Plate Tectonics Chemistry Biology Physics Astronomy Weather & Climate By Andrew Alden Geology Expert B.A., Earth Sciences, University of New Hampshire Andrew Alden is a geologist based in Oakland, California. He works as a research guide for the U.S. Geological Survey. our editorial process Andrew Alden Updated March 18, 2020 This table shows the highest-level units of the geologic time scale: eons and eras. Where available, the names link to more detailed descriptions or significant events that occurred during that specific eon or era. More details beneath the table. Eon Era Dates (m.y.) Phanerozoic Cenozoic 66-0 Mesozoic 252-66 Paleozoic 541-252 Proterozoic Neoproterozoic 1000-541 Mesoproterozoic 1600-1000 Paleoproterozoic 2500-1600 Archean Neoarchean 2800-2500 Mesoarchean 3200-2800 Paleoarchean 3600-3200 Eoarchean 4000-3600 Hadean 4000-4600 (c) 2013 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com, Inc. (fair use policy). Data from Geologic Time Scale of 2015) All of geologic time, from the Earth's origin about 4.54 billion years ago (Ga) to today, is divided into four eons. The oldest, the Hadean, wasn't recognized officially until 2012, when the ICS removed its informal classification. Its name is derived from Hades, in reference to the hellish conditions - rampant volcanism and violent cosmic collisions - that existed from the formation of Earth to 4 billion years ago. The Archean remains somewhat of a mystery to geologists, as most fossil or mineral evidence from that time has been metamorphosed. The Proterozoic is more understood. Oxygen levels in the atmosphere began increasing around 2.2 Ga (thanks to cyanobacteria), allowing eukaryotes and multicellular life to flourish. The two eons and their seven eras are together informally referred to as Precambrian time. The Phanerozoic encompasses everything within the past 541 million years. It's lower boundary is marked by the Cambrian Explosion, a rapid (~20 million year) evolutionary event in which complex organisms first evolved. The eras of the Proterozoic and Phanerozoic eons are each further divided into periods, shown in this geologic time scale. The periods of the three Phanerozoic eras are divided in turn into epochs. (See the Phanerozoic epochs listed together.) Epochs are subdivided into ages. Because there are so many ages, they are presented separately for the Paleozoic Era, the Mesozoic Era and the Cenozoic Era. The dates shown on this table were specified by the International Commission on Stratigraphy in 2015. Colors are used to indicate the age of rocks on geologic maps. There are two major color standards, the international standard and the U.S. Geological Survey standard. (All of the geologic time scales here are made using the 2009 standard of the Committee on the Geologic Map of the World.) It used to be that the geologic time scale was, dare I say, carved in stone. The Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian and so on marched in their rigorous order, and that's all we needed to know. The exact dates involved were hardly important, since the assignment of an age relied only on fossils. More precise dating methods and other scientific advancements have changed that. Today, the time scale is updated yearly, and the boundaries between time spans have become more clearly defined. Edited by Brooks Mitchell Geologic Time Scale: Eons, Eras, and Periods Learn More About the Periods of the Paleozoic Era The Geologic Time Scale Tracks the Eras of Earth's History Precambrian Time Span and the Evolution of Life The 5 (or 6) Major Mass Extinctions How Index Fossils Help Us Understand Geologic Time What Were the Earth's 10 Biggest Mass Extinctions? Mesozoic Era - Age of the Dinosaurs 8 Best Geology Apps for iPhones, iPads and Androids The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of Vermont Mass Extinction - An Evolution Definition Get Up Close and Personal With History in This Fossil Picture Gallery Geologic Maps of the 50 United States Could All the Dinosaurs Have Fit on Noah's Ark? What's the Official State Dinosaur of Your State? How Much Do You Know About Geology?