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The Evolution of Life | 13 - The Quaternary Period

Quaternary is the current and most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).

The Quaternary Period follows the Neogene Period and spans from 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago to present day.


The Quaternary Period is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (2.588 million years ago to 11.7 thousand years ago) and the Holocene (11.7 thousand years ago to today).


The informal term "Late Quaternary" refers to the past 0.5–1.0 million years.


The Quaternary Period is typically defined by the cyclic growth and decay of continental ice sheets related to the Milankovitch cycles and the associated climate and environmental changes that they caused.


Research History

In 1759 Giovanni Arduino proposed that the geological strata of northern Italy could be divided into four successive formations or "orders" (Italian: quattro ordini). The term "quaternary" was introduced by Jules Desnoyers in 1829 for sediments of France's Seine Basin that seemed clearly to be younger than Tertiary Period rocks.


The Quaternary Period follows the Neogene Period and extends to the present. The Quaternary covers the time span of glaciations classified as the Pleistocene, and includes the present interglacial time-period, the Holocene.


This places the start of the Quaternary at the onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciation approximately 2.6 million years ago. Prior to 2009, the Pleistocene was defined to be from 1.805 million years ago to the present, so the current definition of the Pleistocene includes a portion of what was, prior to 2009, defined as the Pliocene.


In 2009, it was decided to make the Quaternary the youngest period of the Cenozoic Era with its base at 2.588 Mya and including the Gelasian stage, which was formerly considered part of the Neogene Period and Pliocene Epoch.


The Anthropocene has been proposed as a third epoch as a mark of the anthropogenic impact on the global environment starting with the Industrial Revolution, or about 200 years ago.


The Anthropocene is not officially designated by the ICS, but a working group has been working on a proposal for the creation of an epoch or sub-period.

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