Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault—the spans of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it. If the Earth formed at midnight and the present moment is the next midnight, 24 hours later, modern humans have been around since 11:59:59pm—1 second. And if human history itself spans 24 hours from one midnight to the next, 14 minutes represents the time since Christ.
To try to grasp some perspective, I mapped out the history of time as a series of growing timelines—each timeline contains all the previous timelines (colors will help you see which timelines are which). All timeline lengths are exactly accurate to the amount of time they’re expressing.
A note on dates: When it comes to the far-back past, most of the dates we know are the subject of ongoing debate. For these timelines, it’s cumbersome to put a ~ sign before every ancient date or an asterisk explaining that the date is still being debated, so I just used the most widely accepted dates and left it at that.
For teachers and parents and people who hate cursing: here’s a clean, Rated G version.
If you liked this, these are for you too:
The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence – A closer, somewhat horrifying look at the future
SpaceX’s Big Fucking Rocket: The Full Story – A post I got to work on with Elon Musk that convinced me that humans will be on Mars by 2025.
The Fermi Paradox – We’ve never seen signs of alien life, even though it seems like we should have—so where is everybody?
And two other big graphics I made that also took me 900 years:
Horizontal History – This one puts human history in perspective
The Death Toll Comparison Chart – A lot of people die a lot