Student: Date received: .Handout 9 of 14(Topic 3.3)The Geological Time-scaleThe Grand Canyon, eroded by the Colorado River, viewed from the South Rim( laban.jpg). The canyon is lessthan six million years old, but exposes Proterozoic, Palaeozoic and Mesozoicsedimentary strata.

The History of the EarthThe Geological Time-ScaleKey IdeasIntended Student LearningFossil evidence was used to develop thegeological time-scale.Explain the relationship between the fossil recordand the eras in the geological time-scale.Explain why the fossil record is inevitablyincomplete, especially for organisms that livedmore than 600 million years ago.Identify each of the following fossils and explainits significance within the geological time-scale:Ediacaran faunaTrilobitesDinosaursAmmonitesIsotopic dating is a means of assigning absoluteages to rocks.ArchaeocyathaGraptolitesMammals.Explain, in terms of parent/daughter elements andhalf-life, the concept of radioactive decay.Interpret decay curves.Topic 3.3The Geological Time-scalePage 2 of 30

The Geological Time-ScaleThis is the revised Geological Time-Scale and will be provided to you in the 2006 examination.EonEraPeriodEpochNeogene(previously Quaternary)HoloceneOld Tertiary-QuaternaryboundaryDate at Boundary(Ma million years ligocenePalaeogene(previously 004500Topic 3.3The Geological Time-scalePage 3 of 30

3.3 – The Geological Time-ScaleTHE PALAEONTOLOGICAL RECORDThe history of life on Earth is recorded in rock strata which may be comparedto the pages of a book. Unfortunately, the earliest pages of the book areillegible, and a number of other pages are missing Fossil EvidenceThe study of fossils (palaeontology),together with other geological andbiologicalevidence,providesinformation on the history of Earthand the evolution of life. Fossilsprovide evidence about the relativeagesofrockstrata,palaeoenvironments and evolution of life.The fossil record has been used todevelop the worldwide geologicaltime-scale.Organisms may leave traces of theirexistence in the sediments formedduring, or shortly after theirlifetimes.FOSSILS are preserved remains of living organisms.(Minerals have replaced the carbon-based structure within the mould, orthe organism has left an impression in the rock.)They may be preserved in rocks formed from sediments that were depositedin a wide variety of environments.TRACE FOSSILS are disruptions of sediments caused by the normalactivities of animals.Examples are footprints, feeding traces, worm burrows or coprolites(fossilised faeces).Topic 3.3The Geological Time-scalePage 4 of 30

Examplesarefootprints, feedingwormtraces,burrowsorcoprolites (fossilisedfaeces).Features of the Fossil RecordBelow is a list of some of the significant features of the fossil record as weknow it today:1.The oldest known fossils, of single-celled organisms, are from about3800-3500 Ma.2.Evolution proceeded very slowly at first. The oldest known fossils ofmulticellular organisms are the Ediacaran fauna (580 to 550 Ma) of theFlinders Ranges, South Australia.The first organisms with hard parts evolved during the Cambrian era,when there was a 'sudden' increase in the number and diversity of livingorganisms — the Cambrian Explosion3.The rate of evolution has been ever-increasing. More organisms haveevolved in the 60 million years of the Cainozoic era than in the whole ofgeological time before the beginning of the Cainozoic.4.Evolution has not proceeded at a uniform rate. There have been intervalsduring which a large number of new life forms has evolved (e.g. theCambrian Explosion), and periods of 'sudden' extinction of many lifeforms.5.Life forms have evolved from the simple to more complex: from singlecelled organisms to humans.Within a group of organisms, such as ammonites, the same tendency hasbeen noted. The earliest members of the group to evolve were muchsimpler in form and structure than those that evolved later.6.Increasing diversity — from a few species of single-celled organisms tothe enormous variety of life on earth today.7.Organisms have succeeded each other in a sequence that is the same inall parts of the world.e.g. Trilobite fossils are always older than ammonite fossils, no matterwhere these fossils are found.Topic 3.3The Geological Time-scalePage 5 of 30

Once an organism disappears from the fossil record, it never reappearsin younger strata. It has gone forever!A group became which extinct, may have been replaced by another, more'modern' group of organisms.The Geological Time-scaleThe ideas of superposition and evolution provide the basis of the geologicaltime-scale, which was developed in a somewhat random fashion (mostly inEurope) during the 19th century. It is a worldwide scale developed bycorrelation of fossils from all around the world. It is based on the features ofthe fossil record discussed above.The geological time-scale divides the history of Earth is divided into eons,eras, periods and epochs.Eons are the largest intervals of geologic time. A single eon covers a period ofseveral hundred million years. The history of Earth has been divided intothree eons: Archaean, Proterozoic and Phanerozoic. Life began to evolveduring the Archaean (at least by 3700 Ma), but multicellular organisms didnot appear until about 580 Ma (in the middle of the Ediacaran period), some30 million years before the end of the Proterozoic. Nearly all the evolution oflife has occurred during the Phanerozoic (in which we live).NB: The time between Earth’s formation and the beginning of the Palaeozoicera (i.e. the Proterozoic and Archaean eons together) are oftencollectively called the Precambrian.The Phanerozoic eon has therefore been divided into three eras — thePalaeozoic (early life) , Mesozoic (middle life), and Cainozoic (recent life). Asignificant change in the dominant life forms marks the transition from oneera to the next one. The changes that mark the transitions between eras aresummarised in the table below.Name of eraCainozoic (recent life)Mesozoic (middle life)Palaeozoic (ancient life)Transition eventsMaExtinction of dinosaurs and many otherorganisms65Extinction of over 90% oforganisms, including trilobites250livingFirst appearance of organisms with540hard parts i.e. the Cambrian ExplosionTopic 3.3The Geological Time-scalePage 6 of 30

The Cambrian period — the first period of the Palaeozoic era — is of majorsignificance in the history of evolution. The earliest organisms with hardparts evolved during this era. In addition, so many organisms first appearedin the fossil record during this period that it has been called the time of theCambrian Explosion.All the eras named in the above table are divided into periods, which aregenerally named after the places in Europe where the rocks of that periodwere first studied. For example, rocks of the Jurassic age were first studied inthe Jura Mountains, in Switzerland and southern Germany, and theCambrian is named after the Cambrian Mountains in Wales.The periods of the Cainozoic era are further subdivided into epochs.An Incomplete RecordFossils provide all the evidence we have about evolution of life on earth, butthis record is far from complete. Special conditions are necessary if anorganism is to be fossilised, rather than decay, after death. The everincreasing rate at which palaeontologists are finding fossils, of hithertounknown organisms, indicates that fossil evidence of many life-forms has notyet been found — and will never be found!Some reasons why the fossil record is inevitably incomplete are:1.2.Most organisms either decay or are eaten by predators soon after death.Special conditions must exist for a dead organism to be preserved andbecome a fossil. Some of these conditions include: extreme cold — woolly mammoths in Siberia. extreme dryness — mummification in desert sand. anaerobic conditions (exclusion of oxygen). rapid burial in sediment deposited in water (hence fossils of marineorganisms are significantly more common than those of terrestrialorganisms). burial in volcanic ash (Pompeii), or tar (La Brea tar pits) covering of amber (i.e. the film Jurassic Park).Even if an organism does become fossilised, it is highly probable that nopalaeontologist will ever study it. It may remain buried, or it maybecome exposed at the surface in a remote and unexplored area.The diagram below shows that only a very small proportion of the fossilspresent in an extensive layer of fossiliferous rock may be available forcollection.Topic 3.3The Geological Time-scalePage 7 of 30

Layer of fossiliferous rock3.Organisms that lived more than 600 Ma (i.e. before the CambrianExplosion) are even less likely to appear in the fossil record for thefollowing reasons:i.There were very few organisms, compared with today’s numbers.ii. During the Ediacaran period, organisms did not contain any hardparts, and it is usually hard parts — such as bones and teeth —which become fossilised.iii. Any rocks in which these very ancient fossils were formed may havebeen eroded or metamorphosed in the intervening 600 Ma.Significant Time-scale Fossils1.Ediacaran FaunaIn 1947, Reg Sprigg discovered the Ediacaran fossil assemblage, in theEdiacara Hills, on the western edge of the Flinders Ranges. When he reportedhis find to the ANZAAS conference, fellow geologists scorned him, and hisfossils were described as ‘fortuitous markings on the rocks’.However, the assemblage is now accepted as being international significance.These fossils represent some of the earliest known multicellular organisms,which lived from about 580 to 560 Ma (and a small number beyond). All thefossils are of soft-bodied animals, many of which cannot be matched withliving species. However, some resemble modern annelid worms, jellyfish andother Coelenterates.The reconstructed Ediacaran seafloor (below) shows some examples of theEdiacaran Fauna. The heights of the vertical leaf-like organisms areapproximately 35 cm.Topic 3.3The Geological Time-scalePage 8 of 30 rhmiller/fossilrecord/FossilRecord.htm (US Natural History Museum)The Ediacaran assemblage is of worldwide significance because: These fossils filled a gap in our knowledge of evolution. Prior to theirdiscovery there was no evidence of life between single celledorganisms, and the complex, hard-bodied organisms of the earlyCambrian. Probably most of the Ediacaran fossils represent animals. Since it is normally only the hard parts of organisms which arepreserved as fossils, special conditions must be necessary to enablethese soft-bodied organisms to be fossilised.Some Ediacaran fossils are shown below:CharniodiscusTopic 3.3SprigginaThe Geological Time-scaleDickinsoniaPage 9 of 30

s believe that the organisms must have lived in a low energytidal marine environment. As the tide went out, dead or dying organismswere stranded on the beach. When the tide returned, the organisms werecovered with sediment (in this case sand). As the organisms decayed and thesediment hardened, their imprints were left in the newly formed sandstone.Mawsonites (Ediacaran ? jellyfish)Aurelia (modern-day jellyfish)Similar fossils have since been found (in rare localities) on all continentsexcept Antarctica, indicating that this was a significant period in theevolution of life. Since 2004, the official geological time-scale now includes theEdiacaran period, at the end of the Proterozoic era.Topic 3.3The Geological Time-scalePage 10 of 30

The base of the newest official geological period, the Ediacaran Period (veryapproximately 600 to 540 Ma), is defined as the boundary beneath thegeologists right foot, i.e. the base of the “Nuccaleena Dolomite” in EnoramaCreek, central Flinders Ranges). Source of photo: Knoll et al. 2004.2.Archaeocyatha ( ancient cups)Members of the now extinct phylum Archaeocyatha featured in the CambrianExplosion, and were amongst the earliest organisms with hard parts. Theywere cup-shaped organisms which resembled both sponges and corals. Theylived in shallow seas between 540 and 520 Ma (i.e. they became extinct wellbefore the end of the Cambrian) and constructed huge reefs, similar to thosebuilt by modern corals.Limestone-containing archaeocyatha fossils can be found inthe Flinders Ranges, and in rocks of similar age on theFleurieu Peninsula.Archaeocyatha fossils frequently consist of the cross-sectionof the organism, appearing simply as a circle (or oval)within a larger one, the two being joined by spoke-likesepta.A cut and polished limestone containingabundant archaeocyatha at natural scale.Topic 3.3The Geological Time-scalePage 11 of 30

3.Trilobites ( three lobes/segments)Trilobites assumed a variety of bizarre shapes, ranging in size from a fewmillimetres to 20 cm or more.Trilobite fossils are easily recognised by their distinctive three-lobed, threesegmented form. Trilobites, exclusively marine animals, were amongst theearliest organisms to possess hard parts. They were primitive crustaceans(related to shrimps, crabs etc). Some must have swarmed on the sea floor, andothers swam on the surface of the sea.Trilobites first appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian Period, when theydominated the seas, flourishing in considerable numbers and changingvariety. They became less abundant before becoming extinct, and relativelyfew forms persisted until the end of the Permian Period.Like other arthropods, trilobites had an external skeleton, called anexoskeleton, composed of chitinous (fingernail-like) material. For the animalto grow, the exoskeleton was shed, and shed trilobite exoskeletons, orportions of them, are relatively common fossils.Each trilobite body-se