Fossils and geological time

Discovering geology

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Our planet formed 4.6 billion years ago which, compared with a human lifespan, is almost inconceivably old.

These pages will help you find out more about geological time and the evolution of life on Earth.

Geologists use a number of techniques to determine the age of rocks, for instance:

  • basic field observations help them work out the relative sequence of geological events, such as the order in which sediments were deposited;
  • because species evolve and become extinct, fossils of some plants and animals are confined to known periods of geological time; and
  • because radioactive elements decay at a known rate, in some circumstances they can be used to calculate how many years have passed since a mineral crystallised or a rock was deposited.

By careful accumulation and comparison of this type of information over many years, geologists have constructed detailed timelines and timecharts describing the Earth’s history, and every day, new discoveries help to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

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BGS geological timechart

Geological timechart

The BGS geological timechart provides colourful reference material for use in schools, colleges and at home.

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Ammonite p521007


What is a fossil and why do we study fossils? This section explains the different methods of fossil preservation and links to a set of detailed pages that describe 14 of the most common fossil types, including ammonites, belemnites, bivalves and trilobites.

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