The evolutionary history of cognition

A timeline of cognitive evolution (v0.1)

The link above brings you to the history of the human universe. There are hundreds of events included in the timeline, and there are many of the events can be expanded for sources and more detail. I attempt to show historical context surrounding major events along our evolutionary path —— from the first signs of life on earth, to evolution of multicellular organisms, plants, nervous systems, animals, primates, humans, and cultures.

My hope is that you can appreciate the span of time immediately, and if you choose, explore time deeply. The deeper you look, the deeper insights you’ll find.

Cognitive evolution timeline overview
Cognitive evolution timeline overview

Event types

Eons. The longest subdivision of geological time.
Eras. The second longest subdivision of geological time. The first era appears in the second eon. We are currently living in the Cenozoic era.
Periods. The third longest subdivision of geological time. The first period appears in the third eon. You’ve likely heard of the Jurassic period. We are currently living in the Quarternary period.
Epochs. The shortest subdivision of geological time included in this timeline. Periods are defined starting in the fourth/current eon. We’re currently living in the Holocene epoch (source: ICS). Pause to consider that the Holocene epoch will yield to the Anthropocene epoch: the first division of geological time impacted by human-caused climate change and other environmental effects. [Wiki][Nature]
Geological events. Events leading to the formation of earth, climate cycles, and supercontinents.
Evolutionary events. These include evolutionary divergences, extinctions, and migrations.
Inventions & discoveries. These include the use of tools, fire, agriculture, currency, and more.
Empires, religions, & cultures. Though not an exhaustive collection is included, they provide a useful points of reference. We typically perceive these collectives to span massive lengths of time; in context here, they appear much different.

Keyboard shortcuts

Zoom in/out cmd (Mac) or alt (PC) + scroll wheel
Scroll horizontally shift+scroll wheel
Collapse all events in all eons ctrl+shift+up
Expand all events in all eons ctrl+shift+down
Collapse details of all events ctrl+shift+left
Expand details of all events ctrl+shift+right

Resources & further reading

The Paleobio Database is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to survey fossil evidence. This video is an introduction to using the free online resource.


I’m constantly reading about neuroscience, and take as much time as I can to stay current in evoltionary and anthropological research. However, there’s a lot of research that I miss. If there’s anything that you’d like to see added, or even to talk about the timeline in general, feel free to contact me via email or twitter.