Monday, 3 December 2012

New "Evolving Earth" TimePoints added

The MapTime server is back online after a small glitch with the server hosting our server.

A new "Evolving Earth" TimeLine will appear soon on the site, which is designed to accompany The evolving earth Year 3 module run by Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton.

The TimeLine is not quite ready and will no doubt have a few tweaks but if you want to have a preview of the TimePoints in their current form, you can visit the TimePoints page and search for the keyword: evolving_earth or you can make the TimeLine here.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

New features coming soon!

The MapTime server is down again. Sorry! (Hopefully it will be fixed shortly.) In the meantime, why not check out the OneZoom Tree of Life Explorer, which seems to be a nice tool for exploring evolution. It includes a time-based animation of the mammalian and amphibian trees. (More taxa will be added.)

The good news is that when the website is backup, it should have some new features including a second TimeLine. More on this soon. In the meantime, please get in touch if you have any questions or would like more information.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Backup website available

The main website is still down, unfortunately. Whilst it is getting fixed, a backup website is available here. It should work as previously described for the main site, although there have been a few tweaks since then.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Website down

It appears that the website has gone down again. (Probably another evil robot attack on one of the other servers hosted by the machine.) Apologies for any inconvenience. We will hopefully get it back up soon. Watch this space for updates.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Organic Evolution TimeLine and Keywords

The current Organic Evolution TimeLine has now (finally!) been given a once over to standardise Keywords and remove a few minor typos and errors. (Please report any remaining ones you spot.) The descriptions remain quite short (and URLs are plain text rather than hyperlinked) for now due to technical reasons but hopefully will be expanded in the reasonable near future.

Along with the other TimePoints currently in the system, these can now be found on the Extended MapTime Glossary page. (The MapTime Glossay does not have TimePoints or Keywords in it.) The TimePoints and Keywords are also summarised below. (Note that on the MapTime website, it is now possible to sort these TimePoints by date, name or edit date.)

A ~ B ~ C ~ D ~ E ~ F ~ G ~ H ~ I ~ K ~ L ~ M ~ O ~ P ~ S ~ T ~ U ~ W


Agriculture & villages. (TimePoint) 10 kya. The beginning of civilization as various plants and animals were domesticated during the Neolithic Revolution. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: history, human, technology).

American Independence. (TimePoint) 1776 AD, 4 July. The US declared independence from the British Empire. Source: Wikipedia. (Keywords: history).

Animal. (Keyword) TimePoints referring to key events in animal evolution.

Archaeopteryx (early birds). (TimePoint) 150 mya. Archaeopteryx the most famous fossil in the evolutionary history of birds. Early bird evolution is still subject to debate. Source: New Scientist (Keywords: animal, evolution, fossils).

Arthropod crawls onto land. (TimePoint) 500 mya. First exploration of land by euthycarcinoids. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: animal, evolution).


BYA. Billion years ago.

Biblical Creation Myth. (TimePoint) 6000 BC. Consensus age of the Earth from calculations based on the Old Testament Creation myth. This TimePoint featured in the original MapTime paper but has been taken out of the default TimeLine as it stood out as the only non-factual event. We might add an "Age of the Earth" TimeLine, which shows how (much) our understanding has changed over time. Source: AnswersInGenesis.

Bilateral Symmetry. (TimePoint) 630 mya. Animals evolve bilateral symmetry (a defined "top" and "bottom") as seen in early worm fossils. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: animal, evolution, fossils).

Bipedal walking. (TimePoint) 5.8 mya. Possible bipedal hominids (Orrorin tugenensis). Source: New Scientist (Keywords: evolution, fossils, human).

Bronze Age. (TimePoint) 5.5 kya. Humans learn to make and use of bronze. Source: New Scientist. (history, human, technology).


Cambrian Explosion. (TimePoint) 535 mya. The appearance during the Cambrian of fossils for most major animal phyla body forms over a few million years. Source: New Scientist (animal, evolution, fossils, geology).

Cave Art. (TimePoint) 35 kya. Cave art in Chauvet, France. Source: New Scientist (Keywords: history, human).

Chordates. (TimePoint) 540 mya. First chordates arise. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: animal, evolution).

Climate. (Keyword) TimePoints referring to key climate events in the Earth's past.

Clothing/Jewellery. (TimePoint) 72 kya. Earliest known clothing and jewellery. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: history, human, technology).

Cold War Ends. (TimePoint) 1989 AD, 2 December. Bush and Gorbachev announce the end of the Cold War at the Malta summit. The Soviet Union dissolves two years later. Source: Wikipedia. (Keywords: history).

Columbus "discovers" America. (TimePoint) 1492 AD. Christopher Columbus lands in the Bahamas archipelago during an attempted round-the-world voyage to reach Japan. Source: Wikipedia. (Keywords: history).


Destination. The end point for your TimeRoute where the final TimePoint will be placed. Typically, the present day (represented in the default TimeLine by the creation of MapTime).


Eukaryotic Cells. (TimePoint) 2 bya. Eukaryotes arise by endosymbiosis. Source: New Scientist (Keywords: animal, evolution, plant).

Evolution. (Keyword) TimePoints referring key events in organic evolution.

Evolutionary history. See evolution.


Flowers. (TimePoint) 130 mya. The first angiosperms (flowering plants) emerge. Source: New Scientist (Keywords: evolution, plant).

Formation of Earth. (TimePoint) 4.54 bya. Approximate age of Earth. (Time of accretion not known.) Source: Wikipedia. (Keywords: geology).


Geology. (Keyword) TimePoints referring to key geological events in the Earth's past.

Grass. (TimePoint) 70 mya. First grasses evolve. Source: New Scientist (Keywords: evolution, plant).


Hiroshima. (TimePoint) 1945 AD, 6 August. The first use of an atomic weapon. A 13-18 kt atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during the latter stages of WWII. Source: Wikipedia. (Keywords: history, technology).

History. (Keyword) TimePoints referring to events from human history.

Homo sapiens appears. (TimePoint) 195 kya. The first Homo sapiens. Anatomically modern humans appear 100-300kya. See blog entry for more details. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: evolution, human).

Human. (Keyword) TimePoints referring to human evolution or history, including pre-historic non-organic events such as the invention of stone tools.

Humans diverge from Chimps. (TimePoint) 6 mya. Most recent common ancestor of humans and chimps. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: animal, evolution, human).


Insects and woody plants. (TimePoint) 400 mya First insects and woody plants. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: animal, evolution, plant).


K/T Extinction. (TimePoint) 65 mya. The mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. End of the dinosaurs. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: animal, evolution, fossils).

KYA. Thousand years ago.

Keyword. Each TimePoint is tagged with a number of keywords. These are predominantly to aid searching for custom TimeLine assembly.


Land Plants. (TimePoint) 465 mya. Plants begin colonizing the land. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: evolution, plant).


MYA. Million years ago.

Major Transitions. The "Major Transitions" in evolution represent key events that appear to have happened once in evolutionary history.

Mammals. (TimePoint) 180 mya. Monotremes diverge from other mammals. Source: New Scientist (Keywords: animal, evolution).

Multicellularity. (TimePoint) 900 mya. First multicellular organisms. One of the Major Transitions in evolution. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: animal, plant, evolution).


Organic Evolution. (TimeLine) The default TimeLine based loosely on the MapTime paper plotting the evolution of life on Earth. Makes heavy use of The New Scientist Evolution of Life website.

Out of Africa. (TimePoint) 1.8 mya. The first migration of human ancestors out of Africa. Source: New Scientist (Keywords: evolution, human).

Oxygen Atmosphere. (TimePoint) 2.4 bya. Oxidizing atmosphere appears. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: climate).


Permian Extinction. (TimePoint) 250 mya. The largest mass extinction in Earth's history, at the end of the Permian. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: evolution, fossils, geology).

Photosynthesis. (TimePoint) 2.15 bya. Earliest undisputed cyanobacteria fossils. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: evolution, fossils, plant).

Plant. (Keyword) TimePoints referring to key events in plant evolution.


Single Celled Life. (TimePoint) 3.5 bya. Oldest single celled fossil. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: evolution, fossils).

Snowball Earth. (TimePoint) 2.3 bya. Extreme global climate change as Earth freezes over. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: geology, climate).

Starting Point. This refers to the first (oldest) TimePoint on the TimeLine. MapTime is designed to visualises a TimeLine as a journey that ends at the current location representing the present day.

Stone Tools. (TimePoint) 2.5 mya. First stone tools. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: human, evolution, technology).


Technology. (Keyword) TimePoints reflecting technological advances in human history or pre-history.

Tetrapods. (TimePoint) 397 mya. First evidence for tetrapods (four-legged animals). Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: animal, evolution).

TimeLine. A TimeLine is a collection of TimePoints, usually grouped by a particular theme. The Default TimeLine is Organic Evolution TimeLine based on the MapTime paper.

TimePoint. A TimePoint is an event on a TimeLine that will be mapped onto the appropriate place along the TimeRoute. The youngest TimePoint is first placed at the destination of the route, the youngest is placed at the starting point and then the remaining points are spaced out according to scale along the route plotted by Google Maps.

TimeRoute. Once a TimeLine has been plotted on Google Maps, it is known as a TimeRoute.


Use of Fire. (TimePoint) 1.6 mya. Human ancestors first use fire. Source: New Scientist (Keywords: human, evolution, technology).


Warm bloodedness. (TimePoint) 200 mya. Earliest warm blooded proto-mammals. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: animal, evolution).

Writing. (TimePoint) 5 kya. The first writing is developed by the Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia. Source: New Scientist. (Keywords: human, history, technology).

Thursday, 16 August 2012

New TimePoint added: first humans (195 kya)

Following some feedback, we have added a new TimePoint to the default Organic Evolution TimeLine. Modern humans arose somewhere in the region of 100,000 to 300,000 years ago. (Marking age uncertainty is on the development wishlist!)

As previously indicated, we are currently basing much of the default TimeLine on the New Scientist Evolution and Becoming Human timelines, which place this particular event at 195,000 years ago. It seemed like a gap in the current TimeLine and a useful TimePoint to have.

More information regarding our default TimeLine will follow shortly.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

E-mail working again!

E-mail forwarding seems to be happy again. Comments and suggestions can once again be directed to webmaster[at]

E-mail issues

It appears that the service provider that should be forwarding on our email addresses is not currently forwarding them on. We are investigating the matter and will hopefully get it sorted out soon (or change the contact email addresses). In the meantime, if you have any comments, suggestions or queries please contact Richard Edwards: r.edwards[at] or Joel Parker: joel.parker[at]

Friday, 10 August 2012

MapTime Terminology

A Glossary of key terms is now available. This will be expanded in time to include the key TimePoints, TimeLines and Keywords from the website. If any confusing terms are missing, or any of the terms listed still do not make sense, please let us know.

D ~ G ~ K ~ M ~ S ~ T


Deep Time. Deep Time refers to the vastness of the geologic timescale. The formation of Earth occurred some 4.54 billion years ago. This is a timescale that is hard for the human mind to visualise - hence the MapTime approach of using Google Maps!

Destination. The end point for your TimeRoute where the final TimePoint will be placed. Typically, the present day (represented in the default TimeLine by the creation of MapTime).


Google Earth. The original MapTime paper made use of Google Earth in place of Google Maps. Google Earth has a few more options for controlling the TimeRoute and we are currently looking into ways to export TimeRoutes from MapTime to open up in Google Earth.

Google Maps. Google Maps is a free, widely known service which lends itself perfectly to the MapTime concept and is free for non-profit use within the scope of the project.


Keyword. Each TimePoint is tagged with a number of keywords. These are predominantly to aid searching for custom TimeLine assembly.


MapTime. The MapTime project for visualising Deep Time using Google Maps, available at

MapTime Blog. A blog of all things MapTime available at blogspot.

MapTime Paper. The original paper: Parker, J. D. (2011) Using Google Earth to Teach the Magnitude of Deep Time. Journal of College Science Teaching 40(5): 23-27.

MapTimeline. (Obselete term.) See TimeRoute.


Starting Point. This refers to the first (oldest) TimePoint on the TimeLine. MapTime is designed to visualises a TimeLine as a journey that ends at the current location representing the present day.


TimeLine. A TimeLine is a collection of TimePoints, usually grouped by a particular theme. The Default TimeLine is Organic Evolution TimeLine based on the MapTime paper.

TimePoint. A TimePoint is an event on a TimeLine that will be mapped onto the appropriate place along the route. The youngest TimePoint is first placed at the destination of the route, the youngest is placed at the starting point and then the remaining points are spaced out according to scale along the route plotted by Google Maps.

TimeRoute. Once a TimeLine has been plotted on Google Maps, it is known as a TimeRoute.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Funding update

Unfortunately, the small grant application we had in with the HEA has been unsuccessful. We are exploring other options but would appreciate being alerted to any opportunities that we might not be aware of. (We are just trying to find a few thousand pounds to pay our excellent developer so that she can dedicate some time to the project, plus organise some workshops etc. once it's fully up and running.)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Why use The New Scientist evolution of life timeline?

As previously mentioned, the majority of the current Time Points for the default Timeline on the MapTime website have been taken from The New Scientist evolution of life website. Why?

When we first set out to establish the default Timeline for the website, we were trying to get a good balance of three desired attributes:
  1. contain the real "key" events in organic evolution.
  2. have supporting literature where possible.
  3. have as much overlap as possible with the original MapTime paper.
The initial plan was to pick an Evolution textbook with a nice timeline and use that. Evolution by Barton et al., for example, has nice timeline inside the front cover. The problem with this was that we could not find any credits or sources for the illustration. (It was also missing a few of the events from the original paper.) Looking at other books on our shelves lead to similar problems. We are not Deep Time experts and are not aiming to endorse certain dates or theories over others - we just want to provide a useful tool for the community. In the end, we settled on The New Scientist evolution of life website because it not only covered many of the events from the MapTime paper but it also contains links out to articles - including, in many cases, the original literature. If you visit the site, you will notice that we haven't included all of the Time Points. There are rather a lot! If your favourite one is missing, let us know. For the more recent events that are not covered by this Timeline we have, for the moment, relied on Wikipedia and Google to "crowd source" the date. We don't intend to stick exclusively with this Timeline forever, although we will keep the Time Points in the website. The planned developments for MapTime include the opportunity to add your own Time Point and Timelines. We would still like to maintain a scientifically accurate, and educationally useful, default timeline, though. We therefore welcome feedback and suggestions - not just in terms of the key events but also corrections to the accepted dates. We do ask for peer-reviewed citations for any requested additions/corrections, though.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Natural History Museum launch Evolution iPad app

This is slightly old news now but the British Natural History Museum has launched a new Evolution iPad app, available from the iTunes App Store for £9.99 (or $13.99). It looks lovely and features a whole bunch of ways for interactively exploring evolutionary timelines. When time and development permits, we will make some custom timelines to accompany those resources. Watch this space!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Website back up!

The MapTime website is now back up an running! (or just

Please see the post from a couple of weeks ago for instructions on how to use MapTime. As always, feedback is welcome. Now that the site is up and running again, we hope to report on some minor tweaks and updates soon.

Website back online soon!

The MapTime website is still down after the server housing it was hacked by what seems to be an automated attack exploiting a weakness somewhere else on the same virtual server. It is in the process of being rebuilt and we expect usual service to return some time this week. Apologies for any inconvenience caused. (One of the drawbacks of currently having no funding to support the project!)

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Website down!

As with most young projects, we are encountering some teething troubles and the MapTime website is currently down. We are working to resume normal service and I will post an update here once the site is back! (Sorry!)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

How to use MapTime

MapTime is still in development and documentation is in the process of being written around the day jobs of those involved. For the first-time user, here is a quick guide to how to use the website. This will be fleshed out into some more informative documentation in time, so please let us know which bits are particularly unclear or need more explanation.

The MapTime website ( currently has only a single TimeLine. (This will be explained in a future post.) You do not, therefore, need to worry about which TimeLine or TimePoints to use when you first visit the site - the only thing to worry about is where you want the course of Organic Evolution to be plotted. Click on the "TimePoint" tab if you want an explanation of the current time points in the system, or just click "TimeLine" to get started. [Note. Since the addition of multiple TimeLines, you now need to choose a TimeLine and click "View TimeLine" to get started - or click on the Organic Evolution tab.]

This will open up the main TimeLine page, which lists, for your information, the time points that will be plotted. Most of these come from The New Scientist evolution of life page, for reasons we will explain another time. For now, just scroll down to the map so that you can get started.

To make a MapTimeline, you only really need two things: (1) an end point, usually where you currently are (or intend to give your Deep Time lecture), and (2) a start point, which should be somewhere your audience will know. At this stage, it matters not if you do not have a (2) - you can always experiment later. To give an example that will hopefully resonate with most people, I will create a MapTimeline that goes from John o'Groats in Scotland to Land's End in Cornwall - the furthest two points apart on the British mainland.

The first step is to choose the end point of your MapTimeline. This will correspond to the present day. You can do this either by searching for a location (enter the name in the box and click "Find Location") or just by clicking on the map. Feel free to pan or zoom but resist the urge to maximise the map at this point. In the current implementation, this will hide all the buttons and you'll get stuck! (Something that is on the list of things to change.)

Once you have selected an initial point on the map, pan and zoom using the usual Google Map controls (click and drag to pan, double-click to zoom in, double-right-click to zoom out) to get a closer look and drag the marker around until it is just where you want it. If giving a lecture, try to get it on the building. (Note that we have not yet tested it extensively with buildings that are a long way from roads - please report any anomalies with the ultimate MapTimeline.) Once you are happy, click "Happy with Destination", which will bring up a red circle:

This circle represents the minimum suggested distance for use with Deep Time, such that 40 years is 1mm and thus a human life is still visible. For different TimeLines in future, this distance will be different. As with the Destination, you can either search for your desired location (I searched for "John O Groats, Scotland") or manually place the Start point.

Note: you may have to pan the map to find your Start point pin, even if you search for a location. Currently, the map stays on the Destination, so zoom and pan until you find your Start point. As with the destination, you have the option of moving the pin around until you are happy. Then click "Happy with Start Location". At this stage, you also need to choose whether you want Driving Directions or Walking Directions.

The route for your MapTimeline will now appear. You can edit the route using the usual Google Map controls until you are happy with it. (Unfortunately, there is no "Back" function at present; if you decide that you are really unhappy, just start again. The process gets quicker with practice anyway!) Once satisfied, click "Place Events" and the real fun starts.

All the TimePoints on the TimeLine will now be placed along your route at a distance proportional to time. The table on the left of the page shows the actual distances - if you want to remake the MapTimeline elsewhere, or place physical markers in your lecture theatre, this table is invaluable. (In this screenshot, the distances are from the Start but they have now been switched to be the distance from the Destination, i.e. your current location, as discussed below.) It can look a bit of a mess but you can get around this by zooming in and hiding unwanted events.

In this MapTimeline, for example, most of the action happens following the origin of multicellularity, a few miles south of Bristol. I hid "land plants" and "grass" because they were obscuring "Tetrapods" and the "K/T extinction" - if your focus was on plants, you would obviously hide something different. Once you are finally happy with your route and TimePoints, then you can maximise to get a full view of your MapTimeline:

However much you zoom, there are still going to be modern events that overlap each other - to some extent, that is the point! Travelling the 1347km from the top of Britain to the bottom, for example, America gained independence around 7cm away from the end of the route! (It is Independence Day, today!) Clearly, you are not going to see this on a Google Map scale view, even at maximum zoom. That's where the table of distances really comes in. Here is the example for the John o'Groats to Land's End route:

MapTime0 mm2012 AD
Cold War Ends6.82484 mm1989 AD
Hiroshima1.98811 cm1945 AD
American Independence7.00288 cm1776 AD
Columbus "discovers" America15.43008 cm1492 AD
Writing1.48337 m5 kya
Bronze Age1.63173 m5.5 kya
Agriculture & villages2.96703 m10 kya
Cave Art10.38534 m35 kya
Clothing/Jewellery21.36443 m72 kya
Use of Fire474.77151 m1.6 mya
Out of Africa534.11799 m1.8 mya
Stone Tools741.83065 m2.5 mya
Bipedal walking1.72105 km5.8 mya
Humans diverge from Chimps1.78039 km6 mya
K/T Extinction19.2876 km65 mya
Grass20.77127 km70 mya
Flowers38.57521 km130 mya
First Birds44.50986 km150 mya
Mammals53.41183 km180 mya
Warm bloodedness59.34648 km200 mya
Permian Extinction74.18309 km250 mya
Tetrapods117.80275 km397 mya
Land Plants137.98056 km465 mya
Arthropod crawls onto land148.36619 km500 mya
Cambrian Explosion158.75182 km535 mya
Chordates160.23548 km540 mya
Bilateral Symmetry186.9414 km630 mya
Multicellularity267.05914 km900 mya
First Eukaryotic Cells593.46476 km2 bya
Photosynthesis637.97461 km2.15 bya
Snowball Earth682.48447 km2.3 bya
Oxygen Atmosphere712.15771 km2.4 bya
Single Celled Life1038.56333 km3.5 bya
Formation of Earth1347.165 km4.54 bya

Hopefully this gives enough information to start playing with the site. New features are being add quite regularly, so please do both experiment and give us feedback on the good or the bad. We will make an FAQ once we have some!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

What is MapTime?

MapTime is an online tool for visualising "Deep Time" (e.g. time on a geological scale) using Google Maps. It based on a method described in:
Parker, J. D. (2011) Using Google Earth to Teach the Magnitude of Deep Time. Journal of College Science Teaching 40(5): 23-27
The paper was featured in a Science 2011 Editor's Choice, "A destination in time." (Science 332: 1360.)

An expanded explanation can be found on the "What is MapTime?" page of this blog. Please see the original paper for more on the rationale and pedagogy behind the method. The MapTime website can be found at and currently features a single TimeLine of organic evolution. A brief tutorial will follow shortly.

Friday, 29 June 2012

MapTime website is live!

MapTime GraphicWe still have a little way to go before we are ready for an official launch but a functioning version of the MapTime website is now available for those interested in having a play before all the documentation etc. is written:

We welcome comments and suggestions, which can be made through the comments on this blog or by emailing Please report any bugs to A list of planned developments and known issues can also be found on this blog, so you might want to check there first to see if it's already on the list. (We have quite a few more plans than those listed but don't want to give them all away! ☺)

Watch this space for further developments in addition to tutorials and the like. We're also going to be on the hunt for interested parties to help test the site and develop the documentation, so please get it touch if you might be one of them. Happy MapTimeline plotting!