Life Chronicles : Earth's history
Thanks to this immersive virtual reality expedition, the Museum is able to offer you a whole new kind of experience: an immersion in palaeo-landscapes, at different periods in Earth's history. Over the course of this journey through time, you will have experienced history first-hand and traveled to astonishing worlds, seeing the planet from all-new perspectives. You are now invited to discover, in person, some of these minerals and meteorites, fossil animals and plants in the Museum's galleries.
The formation of Earth (Solar System)
4.5 billion years ago
4.56 billion years ago, our sun formed as a gigantic cloud of gas and dust. Within a few million years, the first protoplanets in the Solar System formed as well. Earth would take roughly 100 million years to reach its final size. During this time, which ended with the formation of the moon, Earth was heavily bombarded by meteorites of all sizes. The bombardment subsided and the water brought to Earth by the meteorites and stored in the planet’s mantle was released through intense volcanic activity that lasted several hundred million years. Once the oceans had formed, it would take close to a billion years more for life to develop.
A remarkable collection
A meteorite is an extraterrestrial rock from our Solar System that has naturally fallen to Earth. Meteorites are used to study the formation and evolution of planets. When still in space, before they enter the atmosphere, these same objects are called "meteoroids" or, if large, asteroids". The Museum's meteorite collection contains more than 5,400 extraterrestrial samples from 1,600 individual meteorites. It is also the fifth-largest collection in the world in terms of meteorites whose falls have actually been observed (over 500). Among the collections on public display are meteorites collected in France that have left their mark on history: the Aigle meteorite, the Orgueil meteorite and, most recently, the Saint-Pierre-le-Viger meteorite, tracked and found in February 2023.
Meteorite → See them in person at Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie - 3rd floor
The first signs of life
3.5 billion years ago
The Archean is the period in Earth's history that stretched from 4 to 2.5 billion years ago. During this period, the moon was closer, the tides stronger, temperatures were higher and there was no ozone or oxygen in the atmosphere, which made Earth particularly inhospitable. Yet it was in this environment that microbial life first arose and evolved. New organisms would continue to emerge and, over a period of billions of years, these would help to shape the surface of our planet.
An explosion of complex life forms
522 million years ago
During the Cambrian, Chengjiang and its surrounding area were located in a shallow sea not far from the coast. A dive into these waters reveals a world very different from our own, but whose fauna was already highly diversified, with complex interactions. Filter-feeders, detritivores and algae-grazing organisms lived side by side with the mega-predators of the time... no longer than a metre!
314 million years ago, The Montceau-les-Mines region was covered by marshy areas with lush vegetation, the accumulations of which turned into coal seams that would later be mined by humans. The large trees of the Carboniferous forest (Lepidodendron, Sigillaria, Cordaites and tree ferns) were home to 2-metre millipedes, giant insects and small lizard-like animals, the first vertebrates to lay eggs out of water.
A remarkable collection
Meganeura monyi was one of the most spectacular insects ever to have lived on Earth. The species belonged to an extinct lineage, related to today's dragonflies. Its wings spanned roughly 70 centimetres. Its head bore a pair of antennae, large eyes and powerful mouthparts, the mandibles, which made it a formidable hunter. In the forests of the Carboniferous period, its huge size placed it within the niche of "large flying predators", a niche now occupied by groups of vertebrates such as birds and bats.
Meganeura monyi → See it in person at Galerie de Paléontologie et d'Anatomie Comparée, Level 2 - Balcony
The sea during the Lower Jurassic
180 million years ago
The Jurassic stretched from 201 to 145 million years ago and was characterised by much higher temperatures and CO2 levels than today! During this period, all of Europe, including the Holzmaden region in Germany, was beneath the ocean. Only a few islands emerged here and there. The ocean was teeming with life, with a host of animal groups, from ammonites and belemnites to vertebrates including sharks and bony fishes as well as marine reptiles such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs.
The Cretaceous was the geological period that stretched from around 145 to 66 million years ago. During this time, Earth's flora and fauna underwent profound changes. Flowering plants appeared and plant-insect relationships became more complex. Mammals, birds and large dinosaurs, some bearing feathers, lived side by side in these landscapes. The "flying reptiles" (pterosaurs) were at their peak: they were the largest flighted animals ever to exist on Earth - the wingspan of Quetzalcoaltus, for example, could reach 10 metres.
45 million years ago
The Eocene was the period in our planet's history between 56 and 34 million years ago. It was marked by an overall warm climate (no ice at the poles), and by a broad diversification of terrestrial vertebrates, chiefly the birds and mammals. 48 million years ago, Messel was home to a dense tropical forest that surrounded a volcanic crater lake. The fossils found there are of animals that fell into the lake, where the chemistry of the water preserved the specimens, and even some of their internal organs, exceptionally well.
Our cousins from the island of Flores
61,000 years ago
The Pleistocene was the geological period between 2.58 million years ago and 11,700 years ago. Marked by major glacial-interglacial climatic cycles, it was also the period of evolutionary, demographic and geographical expansion of the genus Homo, to which we belong. During the Upper Pleistocene (126,000 to 11,700 years ago), several human species coexisted: our own, Homo sapiens, as well as Homo neanderthalensis and, on the islands of Luzon and Flores, our smaller cousins Homo luzonensis and Homo floresiensis.