Connect with us


Nature Timespiral: The Evolution of Earth from the Big Bang



This spiral timeline shows the events that led us to our modern world, from the Big Bang to the present.

Click to view a larger version of the graphic. For a full-size option or to inquire about posters, please visit Pablo Carlos Budassi’s website.

Nature Timespiral: The Evolution of Earth from the Big Bang

Since the dawn of humanity, we have looked questioningly to the heavens with great interest and awe. We’ve called on the stars to guide us, and have made some of humanity’s most interesting discoveries based on those observations. This also led us to question our existence and how we came to be in this moment in time.

That journey began some 14 billion years ago, when the Big Bang led to the universe emerging from a hot, dense sea of matter and energy. As the cosmos expanded and cooled, they spawned galaxies, stars, planets, and eventually, life.

In the above visualization, Pablo Carlos Buddassi illustrates this journey of epic proportions in the intricately designed Nature Timespiral, depicting the various eras that the Earth has gone through since the inception of the universe itself.

Evolutionary Timeline of the World

Not much is known about what came before the Big Bang, but we do know that it launched a sequence of events that gave rise to the universal laws of physics and the chemical elements that make up matter. How the Earth came about, and life subsequently followed, is a wondrous story of time and change.

Let’s look at what transpired after the Big Bang to trace our journey through the cosmos.

The Big Bang and Hadean Eon

The Big Bang formed the entire universe that we know, including the elements, forces, stars, and planets. Hydrogen and massive dissipation of heat dominated the initial stages of the universe.

During a time span known as the Hadean eon, our Solar System formed within a large cloud of gas and dust. The Sun’s gravitational pull brought together spatial particles to create the Earth and other planets, but they would take a long time to reach their modern forms.

Archean Eon (4 – 2.5 billion years ago)

After its initial formation, the surface of the Earth was extremely hot and entirely liquid. This subsequent eon saw the planet cool down massively, solidifying some of the liquid surface and giving rise to oceans and continents, as well as the first recorded history of rocks.

Early in this time frame, known as the Archean eon, life appeared on Earth. The oldest discovered fossils, consisting of tiny, preserved microorganisms, date to this eon roughly 3.5 billion years ago.

Paleoproterozoic Era (2.5 – 1.6 billion years ago)

The first era of the Proterozoic Eon, the Paleoproterozoic, was the longest in Earth’s geological history. Tectonic plates arose and landmasses shifted across the globe—it was the beginning of the formation of the Earth we know today.

Cyanobacteria, the first organisms using photosynthesis, also appeared during this period. Their photosynthetic activity brought about a rapid upsurge in atmospheric oxygen, resulting in the Great Oxidation Event. This killed off many primordial anaerobic bacterial groups but paved the way for multicellular life to grow and flourish.

Mesoproterozoic Era (1.6 – 1 billion years ago)

The Mesoproterozoic occurred during what is known as the “boring billion” stage of Earth’s history. That is due to a lack of widespread geochemical activity and the relative stability of the ocean carbon reservoirs.

But this era did see the break-up of the supercontinents and the formation of new continents. This period also saw the first noted case of sexual reproduction among organisms and the probable appearance of multicellular organisms and green plants.

Neoproterozoic Era (1 billion – 542.0 million years ago)

In some respects, the Neoproterozoic era is one of the most profound time periods in Earth’s history. It bookends two major moments in the planet’s evolutionary timeline, with predominantly microbial life on one side, and the introduction of diverse, multicellular organisms on the other.

At the same time, Earth also experienced severe glaciations known as the Cryogenian Period and its first ice age, also known as Snowball Earth.

The era saw the formation of the ozone layer and the earliest evidence of multicellular life, including the emergence of the first hard-shelled animals, such as trilobites and archaeocyathids.

Paleozoic Era (541 million – 252 million years ago)

The Paleozoic is best known for ushering in an explosion of life on Earth, with two of the most critical events in the history of animal life. At its beginning, multicellular animals underwent a dramatic Cambrian explosion in aquatic diversity, and almost all living animals appeared within a few millions of years.

At the other end of the Paleozoic, the largest mass extinction in history resulted in 96% of marine life and 70% of terrestrial life dying out. Halfway between these events, animals, fungi, and plants colonized the land, and the insects took to the air.

Mesozoic Era (252 million – 66 million years ago)

The Mesozoic was the Age of Reptiles. Dinosaurs, crocodiles, and pterosaurs ruled the land and air. This era can be subdivided into three periods of time:

  • Triassic (252 to 201.3 million years ago)
  • Jurassic (201.3 to 145 million years ago)
  • Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago)

The rise of the dinosaurs began at the end of the Triassic Period. A fossil of one of the earliest-known dinosaurs, a two-legged omnivore roughly three feet long-named Eoraptor, is dated all the way back to this time.

Scientists believe the Eoraptor (and a few other early dinosaurs still being discovered today) evolved into the many species of well-known dinosaurs that would dominate the planet during the Jurassic period. They would continue to flourish well into the Cretaceous period, when it is widely accepted that the Chicxulub impactor, the plummeting asteroid that crashed into Earth off the coast of Mexico, brought about the end of the Age of Reptiles.

Cenozoic Era (66 million – Present Day)

After the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, this era saw massive adaptations by natural flora and fauna to survive. The plants and animals that formed during this era look most like those on Earth today.

The earliest forms of modern mammals, amphibians, birds, and reptiles can be traced back to the Cenozoic. Human history is entirely contained within this period, as apes developed through evolutionary pressure and gave rise to the present-day human being or Homo sapiens.

Compared to the evolutionary timeline of the world, human history has risen quite rapidly and dramatically. Going from our first stone tools and the Age of the Kings to concrete jungles with modern technology may seem like a long journey, but compared to everything that came before it, is but a brief blink of an eye.

*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article contained errors in the header graphic and an incorrect citation, and has since been updated.

green check mark icon

This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments


Visualizing the Biomass of All the World’s Mammals

When the world’s biomass—the stuff we’re made of—is tallied up, humans and cattle outweigh wild mammals by a massive margin.



Visualizing the Biomass of All the World’s Mammals

Even as we understand more about the world we live in, certain aspects of it remain undefined or hard to comprehend.

One such example is in the scale and distribution of Earth’s life. What’s the ratio of wild to domesticated animals? How much do all of the world’s humans weigh?

Until recently, such questions were nearly unanswerable. A new report titled The Global Biomass of Wild Mammals helps shed more light on the composition and scale of life on our planet. The research provides an estimate of the biomass of all mammals, globally—including humans.

So, What is Biomass Anyway?

Biomass is simply the weight of living things.

In this study, researchers

created rough estimates for four major categories of mammals: humans, domesticated animals, and those that were found in wild terrestrial and marine environments. A further breakdown of mammal groups are found within each category.

To achieve this, they took the estimated number of species from census data and multiplied it with each species’ average body mass.

One component worth pointing out is that animals contribute very different amounts to the world’s biomass total. For example, whales significantly outweigh rodents in terms of biomass, even though there are fewer species and populations of whales. The fact that whales are so much larger than rodents means that even smaller populations can contribute a meaningful portion to overall biomass.

Mammalian Biomass, Organized Neatly

Each larger cube above represents 20 million metric tons of carbon, and the entirety of the visualization represents all living mammalian life on Earth.

The paper separates mammals into four distinct categories:

CategoryTotal Mass (Mt)Top Sub-Category
Domesticated Mammals651Cattle (416 Mt)
Wild Marine Mammals40Baleen Whales (23 Mt)
Wild Terrestrial Mammals24Even-Hoofed Mammals (11 Mt)

One of the most obvious takeaways from this data is that humans make up one-third of total mammalian biomass.

Perhaps even more strikingly, the animals we’ve domesticated for food, companionship, and labor make up close to 60% of the total weight of Earth’s mammals. Domesticated dogs and cats alone equal the total weight of all other wild land mammals combined.

The world’s sheep, on their own, weigh as much as all the whales and seals in the ocean. Domesticated buffalo such as the water buffalo, a species commonly found in Asia, combine to have the third largest biomass of all mammals.

Finally, there’s one category of mammal that comes way out on top.

Cattle Planet

The global livestock population has risen along with the human population, and cattle are now the top mammal in the world by weight.

In fact, just the United States’ share of cattle matches the biomass of all wild mammals on Earth.

As the standard of living continues to rise for people around the world, beef consumption has been increasing in many developing countries. Of course, raising cattle is a resource and land intensive operation, and there have been very real impacts on a global scale. For one, cows are a major source of methane emissions. As well, in Brazil, which accounts for around 25% of the world’s cattle population, pasture has directly replaced large swaths of rainforest habitat.

Waning Wildlife

At the very bottom of the visualization, dwarfed by humans and domesticated mammals, lies the vast array of wild mammals that live on planet Earth.

It’s sobering to see that the biomass of North America’s human population alone compares closely with that of all terrestrial wild mammals in the world. This includes plentiful creatures like rats and mice, as well as large mammals like elephants and bears.

Below are the top 10 wild mammalian contributors to biomass in the natural world.

RankContributorTotal Mass (Mt)Individuals (millions)
#1Fin Whales80.1
#2Sperm Whales70.4
#3Humpback Whales40.1
#4TAntarctic Minke Whales30.5
#4TBlue Whales30.05
#6White-Tailed Deer2.745
#7Crabeater Seals2.010
#8Wild Boar1.930
#9TAfrican Elephants1.30.5
#9TBryde's Whales1.30.1

In the ocean, whales and seals are the heavyweight champions. On land, deer, and boar come out on top as they are both heavy and plentiful.

Humans have a complicated relationship with large mammals. We feel a very clear connection to these creatures, and they are often the key figures in conservation efforts. That said, even small populations of humans have wiped out large mammal species in the past.

The news that cattle outweigh wild land animals by a factor of 20:1 is a reminder that human influence is perhaps even more powerful than we think.

The more we’re exposed to nature’s full splendor […] the more we might be tempted to imagine that nature is an endless and inexhaustible resource. In reality, the weight of all remaining wild land mammals is less than 10% of humanity’s combined weight. – Ron Milo, Professor of Systems Biology

Where does this data come from?

Source: The global biomass of wild mammals

Data notes: To come up with the numbers above, scientists estimated the total biomass of wild mammals on Earth by manually collecting population estimates for 392 land mammal species, which make up about 6% of all wild land mammal species, and using machine learning to infer the global populations of the remaining 94%. Their estimate includes 4,805 wild land mammal species out of approximately 6,400 known and extant wild land mammal species, excluding low-abundance species for which data are scarce.

Continue Reading