Great Story Timeline, Part 2
Cenozoic Era (Age of Mammals and Birds) begins.(Use
small green beads as spacers, with different hues of green for the first 6 of 7 epochs of the Cenozoic. Use pink and white beads for the final, Holocene,
has only two geological "periods" the Tertiary and the Quaternary (or
sometimes divided into the Paleogene and the Neogene) but it is more
helpful to speak of the geological "epochs" within these periods. The Tertiary
entails the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, and Pliocene epochs. The
Quaternary includes just the Pleistocene and the Holocene epochs. For our
purposes, we treat the Paleocene through the Pleistocene as hues of green.
Even though humans originated in the Pleistocene, we did not become a dominant
force on Earth until the Holocene. We use various shades of pink and white
beads for the Holocene, to mark significant periods within the human realm.
- The "GOLDEN
AGE OF TURTLES" in North America, as turtles that could hibernate in the
mud may have been the only large vertebrates in North America that made it
through the Mexico impact event. This is also the birth of TURTLE ISLAND
a Native American name for North America. The inland sea that had flooded
the middle of the continent, from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico, during
the Mesozoic is now vanished, revealing a single continent. Note: Because
North America is our home, we focus on North American events during the Cenozoic.
- 61 mya
MAMMALS embark on a stunningly fast evolution. Within just four million
years (6561 mya) amazing new forms evolve to fill the empty ecological
roles left by the dinosaurs. Hoofed mammals achieve glorious diversity, though
they are still no larger than dog-size.
- HORSE, CAMEL,
AND DOG families arise in North America.
RHINO, AND PRIMATE families arise in the Old World.
- A global GREENHOUSE
allows massive interchange of even tropical life between continents across
the Arctic. Montana and the Dakotas are home to tropical rainforest plants
in the magnolia, citrus, fig, pawpaw, and cashew families, with early PRIMATES
and squirrel-like MULTITUBERCULATES cavorting in the forest canopy.
At 75º latitude in the Canadian Arctic (Ellesmere Island), subtropical
plants and animals (alligators) thrive. Winters are dark that far north, but
not cold; plants do shed their leaves for the dark time; reptiles, amphibians,
and mammals go into dormancy.
the "terror crane" of North America, is a gigantic, eight foot tall, flightless
bird with a stout nine-inch beak, who stalks prey upright, as T. rex did.
- The first really
big mammals evolve and rise up into the biggest land mammals of all time:
the rhino-like uinthatheres and BRONTOTHERES of North America and the
indricotheres of Asia (the largest of which weighed 20 tons and stood 18 feet
tall at the shoulder).
ancestors return to the sea.
- LATE EOCENE
(mini) EXTINCTION. Many types of large mammals disappear, including all
the uintatheres and brontotheres and indricotheres. Primates, once abundant
and diverse in North America, disappear from this continent. Rodent-like multituberculates,
which had originated in the Cretaceous, go globally extinct. Asteroid impacts
are implicated, as two large, buried craters (each half the size of the Yucatan
crater tied to the dinosaur extinction) were discovered in the 1990s beneath
Chesapeake Bay in the eastern United States and in Russia. They are dated
to about 35 mya.
refer to this time as "The Big Chill." The sea ridge that connected Australia
to Antarctica at a shallow depth disappears, giving birth to the deep Antarctic
Circumpolar Current. A globally cooler climate and intense SEASONALITY
- Deciduous trees
thrive, including the deciduous conifer METASEQUOIA. Also known as
"dawn redwood," metasequoias become as common in western North America as
pines are today.
- Many of our
familiar FRUIT TREE FAMILIES originate (or, at least, this is when
their first fossils show up).
- The DAISY
FAMILY comes into existence and rapidly evolves into the most species-rich
of all plant families.
originate in North America and co-evolve with NUT TREES.
fly into North America for the first time, having originated in Australia.
enter North America for the first time, rafting across the sea from South
- The first MONKEYS
arrive in South America and diversify, presumably after having rafted in from
- The ROCKY
MOUNTAINS are uplifted for a second time, after having eroded nearly away.
- A catastrophic
flow of COLUMBIAN FLOOD BASALT covers what is today eastern Washington
- The entire
Miocene is the GOLDEN AGE OF MAMMALS, with an astounding diversity
of mammalian species on land. Camels, still confined to North America, diversify
into forms that resemble African gazelles and giraffes. Many kinds of peccaries
fulfill the "pig" niche in North America. These are examples of "convergent
evolution": Earth itself is calling forth the gazelle form, the giraffe form,
the pig form, and will work on whatever lineage is available!
- At the water's
edge, the bear family sends ancestors of SEALS back into the sea.
- The global
climate warms, but it is still very dry, providing ideal conditions for modern
GRASSES to flourish. Grasses cope well with drought and are superbly
adapted to survive mammal grazing (because the growing cells of grasses are
concealed at the base, not exposed at the tip). Some mammals co-evolve high-crowned
teeth to withstand abrasion from silica granules embedded in grasses. Woody/grassy
savannas spread throughout the world. (Grasses wheat, barley, rice,
maize, oats, millet will later support the emergence of agriculture.)
After 200 million years of stunning persistence, the whole taxonomic order
of GINKGO (Ginkgoales) goes extinct in the western hemisphere, and
nearly extinct in Asia. The dawn redwood (Metasequoia) goes extinct in North
America too, hanging on in Japan until the Pleistocene. (In 1944, scientists
will be thrilled to discover about 100 metasequoia trees still alive in Szechwan
Province of China. As with ginkgo, humans will revive the lineage: both trees
now can be found in parks and gardens throughout the world.)
- The first elephants
MASTODONS arrive in North America from the Old World,
along with BEAVERS, while VULTURES fly in from South America.
- The PRONGHORN
family (Antilocapridae) originates in North America (only one species remains
today: the American pronghorn).
originate in North America. This is the only cat genus (Acinonyx) to
ever originate in the Western Hemisphere, although there were catlike forms
of the nimravid lineage much earlier in the Cenozoic. (Meanwhile, isolated
South America had marsupial "cats" that evolved the same body forms and teeth
as our placental true cats and as the nimravids.) The cat form is thus another
remarkable example of "convergent evolution" during the Cenozoic.
- Only a narrow
sea now separates North from South America, which had long been isolated by
a vast expanse of water. WHIPTAIL LIZARDS are carried to North America
from South America (probably on floating logs). TORTOISES (distinct
from turtles) float from North America to South America.
- 5 mya the Miocene
ends in a severe drought. The Great Plains region shifts from a wooded savanna
to a true steppe grassland. There are some EXTINCTIONS in North America
notably all North American members of the rhinoceros family.
5-2 mya PLIOCENE
venture into North America from the Old World and proliferate.
- The DEER
family immigrates into North America from Asia for the first time. Meanwhile,
the DOG and CAMEL families, which arose long ago in North America,
successfully send their first emissaries out to the rest of the globe via
- 5 mya hominids,
chimpanzees, and BONOBOS (pygmy chimpanzees) diverge from a common
ancestor in Africa. Recent studies have shown that 98.7% of human DNA is identical
with the bonobos and chimpanzees revealing them to be our closest genetic
- Pressed southward
by advancing glacial ice, TULIP TREES (Liriodendron, Magnolia
family) go extinct in Europe and western North America. A remnant population
takes refuge in northern Florida and survives to repopulate eastern North
America as the climate warms.
- The Colorado
Plateau is rapidly uplifted, which produces the GRAND CANYON and the
geological extravagances of Bryce and Zion parks.
- 3 mya the ISTHMUS
OF PANAMA forms, joining the two continents for the first time since the
Mesozoic. This is likely the origin of the Gulf Stream, which brings warm,
moist air up from the tropics along the eastern shore of North America, then
across to Europe. Formation of the isthmus also prompts "THE GREAT
AMERICAN INTERCHANGE," an event that is a crisis for some lineages and
an opportunity for others. Small ground sloths had swum across earlier, but
now South America sends north its giant ground sloths, tanklike glyptodonts,
porcupines, and armadillos (all of the taxonomic order Edentata, which originated
in South America), plus marsupial opossums, and a ten-foot tall carnivorous
bird: Titanis. In exchange, North America sends southward its foxes, deer,
mice, skunks, rattlesnakes, rabbits, squirrels, tapirs, camels (llamas), cats,
bears, weasels, snapping turtles, and small mastodons (gomphotheres)
none of which South America had ever before experienced. The influx of northern
animals honed by ecological interactions in the vast northern hemisphere proves
too much for many South American endemic species, which go extinct. "Native"
South American animals alive today are thus mostly less than three million
- 2.5 mya HUMAN
BEINGS (Homo habilis "handy human") use stone tools.
mya to 13,000 years ago PLEISTOCENE
ICE advances and retreats at least 17 times, with four major waves in
- 1.4 mya humans
(Homo erectus) domesticate FIRE.
originate about a million years ago, probably in North America.
- POLAR BEARS
evolve from the Asian grizzly bear in just 200,000 years.
emigrate from Asia into the New World for the first time about 400,000 years
ago, eventually producing endemic species native to North America.
years ago SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE emerges, marking the birth of beliefs and
metaphors for comprehending the nature of Reality and our relationship to
it in all its manifestations. This marks a radical shift. For 80-95% of human
history we experienced life we remembered, made choices, learned, pair-bonded,
raised children, and were guided by instinct, experience, and non-verbal tradition,
or "culture" without any internal conversation going on in our heads.
In other words, we lived and communicated as other animals do intuitively
and experientially, making full use of our senses and were guided by
the whole of Reality (within and outside us) just as all other creatures are.
Mythically, while this can be considered HUMANITY'S FALL FROM THE GARDEN,
it should also be recognized as AN ENORMOUS LEAP IN COMPLEXITY, and
a hugely positive development at a number of levels. Symbolic language widens
the range of possible feelings that can be experienced. It makes abstract
thought achievable hence, science and religion. It also allows us to
communicate something of the past storytelling and to work with
others in planning future actions. In all of these ways, symbolic language
makes it possible for the Universe to come to know and experience itself in
a new way, in and through the human.
- 50,000 years
ago, humans enter AUSTRALIA via a land bridge from Southeast Asia,
uncovered by a decline in sea level resulting from glacial ice piling up on
land. They, and the dingo they bring with them, cause an "extinction of the
massive" among Australia's biggest marsupials, reptiles, and flightless birds.
Australia loses all but one of its sixteen genera of terrestrial vertebrates
weighing 100 pounds or more. THE SIXTH MAJOR MASS EXTINCTION thus begins
with this AUSTRALIAN EXTINCTION. 35,000
years ago, the most recent advance of glacial ice begins; it will peak at
18,000 years ago and begin to melt away 15,000 years ago.
- 30,000 years
ago, humans create the first CAVE PAINTINGS.
- 23,000 years
ago, peoples living in Europe sculpted (and later painted) figures of the
arrives in North America from South America (probably in the feathers
of a migrating bird). Because there are no North American insect predators
evolved to keep it in control and because camels (who would eat it) will soon
go extinct, creosotebush begins to take over the warm reaches of the desert
west. Also, the spruce-parkland landscape type goes extinct, although the
individual plant species do not.
- 13,000 years
ago, humans enter the Americas. In just 300 years, the CLOVIS culture
causes EXTINCTION OF THE MASSIVE IN NORTH AMERICA, owing to overkill.
Mastodons, mammoths, ground sloths, glyptodonts, horses, camels, long-horned
bison, giant tortoises, and those who preyed or scavenged upon them (sabertooth
cats, short-faced bear, American lion, giant hyena, teratorn birds) all go
extinct. North America loses 32 of its 47 genera of "megafauna" those
animals with adult weights of 100 pounds or more. Meanwhile, South America
loses 47 of its 59 genera of megafauna. Mammals that had learned to cope with
humans in Asia now successfully migrate into North America for the first time:
elk, moose, plains bison, grizzly bear.
TO VIEW the
final of three files of the timeline (which brings us to the present), click
1 Big Bang to 65,000,000 Years Ago
3 12,000 Years Ago to Present
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