A few fragments of prehistory

When I read about something happening 150 million years ago, I can't remember how that relates to what other things how long ago; so I'll collect together here the fragments that shall, in due course, accumulate to a time-line. For more extensive topic-specific time-lines, consult Wikipedia; for a time-line of global temperature variation, see XKCD. For sources (in so far as I'm able to trace them), follow links.

In the spirit of my page on the scale of things, I'll break this up into chunks by metric quantifier on number of years before the present (nominally 2000; and I habitually use whatever quantifier puts the number in the range from about 0.1 to about 100) in the main list. (I should arguably switch to the Holocene calendar. For events whose timing is known most accurately relative to The Big Bang, I include a separate tail-piece, presently with too few entries to warrant a separate page.) Only three quantifies show up, though: the k yr range tells the tale of humanity's development; the M yr range is the era of fossils; and the G yr range is the time-scale of cosmology. Shorter time-scales I classify as history on a page of their own; and time itself is only meaningful back to the start of the universe, so no longer time-scale is relevant here.

k yr, a.k.a. millennium

A century ago radio was a novel concept and not much in use. Recorded history stretches back of order ten millennia, to roughly the point where the present ice age (which stretches back at least about a hundred millennia) entered its present interglacial phase (in which only the North polar sea and the South polar continent are ice-locked). The duration of such inter-glacial interludes is generally of order ten millennia. We have archeological records stretching back significantly further than those ten millennia – though only of the things that survive for such time-scales.

10ish to 5ish k yr ago
The development of writing and, as a result, history. From this point on, written records give us far more detailed information about events – and the archeological record is vastly more detailed, too – so we know more about the last few millennia than about everything that came before. As a result, I separate out the last ten millennia – the Holocene era – into their own page on history.
8 k yr ago

Boats tend not to survive in the archeological record, as (prior to the last two centuries) they're made of perishable materials: however, evidence survives of dugout canoes as far back as 8 millennia ago. This is more indicative of how long evidence of past things survives than as evidence of how long folk have been making boats: there is little reason to doubt folk have been making boats for much longer than this. Human settlements on islands (some remote, some separated from their mainlands by strong currents) long before this are hard to explain unless fairly large groups arrived roughly together. Better designs of boat are less durable (for reasons intimately connected to what's better about them): if evidence of some type reaches back as far as such evidence could be expected to survive, it does tell us folk have had them for at least that long – but doesn't tell us that folk didn't have them earlier – possibly much earlier.

I encourage the reader to consider entries below in a similar light; while some may indeed be roughly the earliest instances of what they desccribe, for others there may simply be no surviving evidence of earlier instances. Where time reliably destroys evidence of some human activity, we cannot confidently assert that folk weren't doing it before our oldest proof of them doing it – we can only assert they have been doing it for at least that long.

11.6 to 5.3 k yr ago

The Neolithic era, a.k.a. new stone age. Sources vary as to when it starts and ends. Archeologists have found buildings from at least 11 k yr ago. People began living in relatively permanent villages and domesticating crops and (other) animals. In time some villages grew and their people built larger structures that strongly suggest social organisation, although initially without signs of a hiearchy. Around 10.8 k yr ago there was a significant shift in culture accompanying technological innovations, while domesticated species start to show significant differences from their wild-type cousins. Around 8.5 k yr ago, possibly driven by a few centuries of cooler, drier climate in The Middle East, that region's larger settlements broke up in favour of smaller settlements, just as the arrival of pottery paved the way for the eventual invention of writing. This dispersal doesn't appear to have involved a major drop in total population, or the complexity and extent of trade networks in the region.

5k yr ago

Neolithic people were honing stone blades on a boulder in Dorset's Valley of Stones.

9.4 to 7.7 k yr ago

Çatalhöyük (Çatal = fork (in a path), höyük = mound), in Anatolia, was inhabited, moving from the large mound to the small mound around 8 k yr ago, with a population fluctuating from 3 to 8 k.

9.5 k yr ago

Oldest archeological evidence of cats and humans cohabiting. For more solid evidence of domestication, one has to wait another 4.2 k yr. By this time, farm animals and crops show clear signs of domestication, resulting from selective breeding (whether or not the selection was guided by foresight). Then again, domestic cats seem to have arrived in Eastern Europe around 8 k yr ago. It's easy to suspect humans of (at least) colluding in how they got there.

10ish k yr ago

The Blinkerwall may be Europe's oldest megastructure. It's a wall of stones and boulders that's suspected of having been used as an aid to hunting, by constraining the route taken by chased animals. Rising sea levels have since submerged it in the Baltic.

12 to 11 k yr ago

Evidence of early neolithic agriculture: a variety of fig prospering, that normally wouldn't survive, as it needs human intervention to propagate it from cuttings.

12 k yr ago

First successful human settlements in the British Isles.

11.7 k yr ago
The start of the present interglacial period of the Quaternary ice age.
12.9 to 11.7 k yr ago: The Younger Dryas
The world had been warming, from the depths of the last glaciation around 20 k yr ago, but suddenly (at least in Europe and The Middle East) went back to being cold for two millennia. Various causes have been suggested, including a Comet impact and a vast ice-dam breakthrough in North America unleashing huge amounts of cold water into the North Atlantic, disrupting ocean currents. Whatever the cause, a dramatic change in climate disrupted ecologies in North America, Europe and the Middle East.
15 to 11.5 k yr ago
The Natufian culture in The Middle East cultivatesd at least some plans, including rye. They may well have brewed a form of beer and made bread. They domesticated dogs. They were still primarily hunter-gatherers and abandoned their settlements when The Younger Dryas came along, bringing colder dryer conditions to The Middle East.
5 to 15 k yr ago

If we look at the set of ancestors of each human alive today, as a function of time, going backwards, there must come a point at which these sets are all identical, known as the identical ancestors point; this is estimated to be between five and fifteen millennia ago.

at least 14 k yr ago
The invention of pottery appears to have happened in East Asia. Pottery shows up in the southern Sahara around 12 k yr ago; still several millennia before pottery shows up in the Middle East (and Europe).
15 k yr ago
Rice cultivation in East Asia (mentioned here, from Korean research).
18 to 10 k yr ago
The Magdalenian culture, ranging at least from the Iberian peninsula to what is now Poland, made tents and hunted large animals including reindeer; they made tools of flint, bone and antlers. Their resettlement of Europe came just as the ice age was taking a break for the present interglacial.
20 or 19 to 16.5 k yr ago
The last glacial maximum (LGM): the most recent period of the preent ice age was at its peak; ice sheets covered much of northern Britain to a depth of about a kilometer and a half.
30–26 k yr ago
Humans in the Americas managed to contribute to the extinction of giant sloths (and made pendants of their claws) about 27 k yr ago; various other evidence points to their presence possibly earlier.
31 k yr ago
Earliest evidence of surgical amputation, in Borneo.
35 to 24 k yr ago
The end of the Neanderthals.
40 to 10 k yr ago: upper Paleolithic

The first European humans were already painting erotic pictures 40 k yr ago.

39 k yr ago
Heinrich event 4, a 2 k yr period of sluggish circulation and falling temperatures in the Atlantic, associated with a desert period in Iberia at the end of the Neanderthals' era.
40 k yr ago
The invention of tallies, physical objects on which to make marks representing numbers – of cattle, slaves and trade-goods, for example. This long pre-dates (other kinds of) writing. The oldest known rope-making tool also dates to 40 k yr ago.
42 k yr ago: the Laschamps excursion
Earth's magnetic field flipped for about a millennium; during the process of flipping, the dipole moment of the field is greatly reduced, which makes a big difference to how well the planet is protected from cosmic (and solar) radiation; this coincided with a grand solar minimum, when we lost much of the protection from cosmic rays that the solar wind gives us. The combination lead to increased 14C (Carbon-14) production in the atmosphere; other results allagedly included changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, dramatic expansion of the arctic icesheet in North America, shifts in Pacific rain belts and southern wind belts. It is conjectured that this may have contributed to the demise of our Neanderthal cousins and various larger species of mammal and may have made caves a better place to live. The red ochre hand-prints seen around this time might even be a result of folk using red ochre as a sun-screen.
43 k yr ago: flute
A cave bear femur with neatly-spaced holes lined up on one side (and hints of a thumb-hole opposite) looks suspiciously flute-like.
45 to 42 k yr ago

Modern humans in Russia.

54ish k yr ago
Modern humans in the Rhôlne region, alternating (or overlapping) with Neanderthals as inhabitants of the Mandrin cave.
40–60 k yr ago
Physiologically modern since 200 k yr ago, humans start leaving whackier artefacts – burials, beads, cave-wall markings – round about the same time as migrating out of Africa. At least one researcher suspects this is the root of religion.
c. 50 k yr ago

Modern humans in Australia.

c. 60 k yr ago

Estimated date of the patrilineal most recent common ancestor of all currently living humans, a.k.a. the Y-chromosomal Adam, based on study of the Y chromosomes of men from around the world.

c. 70 k yr ago
Neanderthals in the Zagros Mountains were cooking tasty flatbread from a mixture of ingredients, suggesting a sophisticated cooking culture.
70 to 75 k yr ago

Supervolcano on Sumatra explodes (creating Lake Toba), possibly forcing the human gene-pool through a bottleneck, down to between one and ten thousand breeding pairs.

100 to 60 k yr ago
Homo Floresiensis inhabited the island of Flores, now part of Indonesia. They were roughly half-scale humans – so have been nick-named hobbits – and died out at roughly the time that (full-sized) humans were spreading into that part of the world (see 50 k yr ago, reaching Australia).
M yr

A third of a million years is about the same fraction of the Sun's life expectancy (tenish giga years) as the fraction a day is of a life-span of 80ish years.

You run and you run to catch up with The Sun – but it's sinking,
rushing around to come up behind you again.

The Sun is the same, in a relative way, but you're older;
shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Pink Floyd

0.12 M yr ago
Humans in (what's now) Morocco were making clothes. Studies of clothing lice DNA suggests humans had been wearing clothes since 0.17 M yr ago.
0.13 M yr ago

Ancestors of modern domestic cats diverge from those of their surviving wild relatives; they may have been living with humans all that time.

0.14 M yr ago

estimated date of the matrilineal most recent common ancestor of all humans, a.k.a. the Mitochondrial Eve, inferred from study of diversity in human mitochondrial DNA.

0.16 M yr ago

Fossils of modern humans (H.Sap.) in East Africa's Rift Valley have been dated to 0.16 M yr ago; our species is believed to have arisen 0.2 M yr ago in sub-saharan Africa, and to have migrated out of Africa – in small groups as early as 90 k yr ago and in significantly larger numbers from around 50 k yr ago.

0.25 M yr ago

a.k.a. a quarter million years ago, some of the humans who'd made it to Europe, specifically Spain, were plainly using fire. Admittedly, this is probably just a case of we haven’t been able to show it systematically or robustly until now (quoting Magill, from the article) rather than when humans in Europe first started cooking socially; given that their ancestors had been using fire for hundreds of thousands of years by then, they surely brought fire-management skills with them out of Africa, so what they were doing in Europe was just a continuation of what they grew up with before they moved there.

0.4 to 0.2 M yr ago

Separation of Britain from mainland Europe (a prehistoric Brexit). The North Sea was previously land-locked, but broke out through what is now The Channel, possibly in a single day, gouging a deep trench valley in the process. This Anglian stage glacial era moved the Thames from a more northerly course to its present course, through (the eventual site of) London; and its ending created the white cliffs of Dover. Within this period, there were hominids, likely including Neanderthals, using stone tools, includeing knives up to a light nanometre long.

0.7 to 0.5 M yr ago

Earliest human (or hominid ?) attempts at colonising the British Isles. Around this period, (probably less desperate) hominids were cooking food and, later, wearing clothes.

0.8 M yr ago

Approximate date of last common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals – as long as you ignore the more recent interbreeding between the two groups. Perhaps better described as the last common ancestor of the Neanderthals and modern humans who didn't migrate out of Africa, where their cousins who did (and who make up most of the ancestry of non-African human populations) ended up interbreeding with the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

1.5ish M yr ago
Homo erectus shows up, some of whom left Africa via the Levant, dispersing throughout Europe and Asia. Along with the stone tools already in use for half a million years, they (had) tamed fire. There are reasonable grounds to allow that they had (at leat tolerably) rich language. They prospered from about 2 M yr ago to about 0.14 M yr ago, which gives ample time for evolutionary pressure to promote the evolution of better vocal means of articulating their languages through sound. Just as their tools evolved over that time, one can expect their language to have done so; and it's reasonable to suppose they used fire for cooking, which most likely began the process by which we have adapted to cooked food, that has lead to us having jaws too small for our teeth (and surviving just fine despite losing teeth, because we can cook soup).
2ish M yr ago
Hom habilis (another of our suspected ancestors) is using tools.
2.6 M yr ago
Sites as old as this contain stone tools: these show evidence of skilled flint knapping. That requires significant hand-eye co-ordination; and skill at it means learning the ways that flint tends to fracture, so as to get useful-shaped pieces. Whoever that was, they were smart. By 2.12 M yr ago, the use of stone tools had reached what's now China.
4 to 3 M yr ago
Australophethecus afarensis, generally classified as a hominid (so possibly our ancestors) shows up. There's evidence (cuts in animal bones and, elsewhere, actual tools) that someone around this time was using stone tools, notably including flint blades.
6.1 to 5.7 M yr ago
Orrorin tugenensis, a bipedal forest ape, plausibly ancestral to at least some hominids, probably walked around (like Orang Utangs) in the branches of trees. Upright posture allows holding branch above the ones you're standing on, in contrast with chims – living mostly on the ground – who don't seem to have much need for upright posture. So, though our common ancestors with chimps came down from the trees, our ancestors had to go back up to get bipedal and only after that come back down to make the most of the plains that opened up in their East African jungles.
6.3 to 5 M yr ago

Last common ancestors of chimps and humans.

9 M yr ago
The ancestry if chimpanzees (and hominids, including the species that invented web pages) separates from that of gorillas.
10 M yr ago
Apes emerge.
11 M yr ago

Emergence of felines as a separate group of carnivores. Some migrated to the Americas about 8 M yr ago, via the Berring land bridge.

41 to 34 M yr ago

Antarctica and South America separated, allowing an ocean current to circulate round Antarctica, via the Drake Passage, with major impact on Earth's climate – including Antarctica's glaciation.

40 M yr ago

Early primates with a mutation began to see red – the origin of colour vision.

48 M yr ago

Earliest evidence of zombie ants, whose behaviour is hijacked by a fungal infection.

65 M yr ago

Meteor strike in Yucatan, leaving the Chicxulub crater; dinosaurs died out in the aftermath.

G yrLife's increasing complexity: starting c. 3.9 G yr ago, bacteria c. 3.5 G
yr ago, photosynthesis 2.5 G yr ago, eucaryotes 1.5 G yr ago and the Cambrian
explosion 0.5 G yr ago

The universe appears to be about 13.7 G yr old; our solar system formed four to five G yr ago and the third major planet (our home, Earth) from its star (The Sun) has teemed with life for much of the time since, acquiring its oxygen-rich atmosphere around 2 G yr ago. The Sun is expected to survive for about another four or five G yr.

0.1 G yr ago

Australia split off from Gondwanaland, after a slow splitting-up along a rift valley. The oldest known amber-fossil of a bee dates from about the same time.

0.168 to 0.14 G yr ago: Origin of the ants

A lesson for us all subsequently diversifying around 100 M yr ago, in concert with the flowering plants.

0.251 G yr ago

The Permian-Triassic mass-extinction, possibly caused by a meteor strike; the resulting crater, lurking under Antarctic ice, is about 480 km (300 miles) wide. This is also roughly when Gondwanaland (Pangea ?) began breaking up, possibly also thanks to that meteor. Life barely survived, some of it sheltering in coastal waters.

0.29 to 0.248 G yr ago
The Permian era, during which the world's land-masses were all fused together as Pangea, stretching from pole to pole. Ferns begin being displaced by seed-bearing plants; and conifers emerge.
0.4 to 0.45 G yr ago
Evolutionary divergence of the arachnids (spiders, scorpions, mites and ticks).
0.45 G yr ago

A mass-extinction wiped out plenty of life on Earth.

0.5 G yr ago

Phytoplankton evolved strategies for spreading out (and becming spikier, hence harder to eat) when animals came grazing.

0.85 to 0.544 G yr ago

The Cryogenian era, including 0.2 G yr of the Neoproterozoic era. The period is known to have seen extensive glaciation, reaching even to the tropics, but (at least) the era is believed to have seen interglacial warmings.

0.8 G yr ago

Odd changes happened to ocean chemistry, possibly caused by a true polar wander incident – the Earth realigning itself around its spin axis in the space of a few million years.

1 G yr

Here's a video of the last gigayear's activity of the tectonic plates of Earth.

2.7 to 2.3 G yr ago: Oxygen atmosphere

cyanobacteria (a.k.a. blue-green algae) showed up somewhat earlier, but at this point their environmental pollution became a major part of the atmosphere. It might be arguable that the damage took a few more mega years to entrench itself.

3.5 to 3.4 G yr ago: Early life

Apex Chert stromatolites in Pilbara, Western Australia, are 3.4 G yr old and some experts maintain that their origin is biological.

5 to 3.75 G yr ago: Oldest rocks

Rocks as old as 3.75 G yr can be found in the Hudson Bay area of Canada and in West Greenland. The Hudson Bay rocks reveal high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere at a time when the Sun is believed to have been about 25% less bright than it is today; without the CO2, oceans would have frozen. Rocks allegedly formed earlier, as much as 3.9 G yr ago.

4.3 G yr ago
Earth (possibly) cool enough to have liquid water.
4.6 or 4.5 G yr ago

Formation of Earth and Moon. Meanwhile, a collision in the Kuiper built broke up 2003 EL61 (which might otherwise have been bigger than Pluto).

4.56 G yr ago: Iapetus formed
Saturn's moon Iapetus has a ridge round its equator; one theory to explain this involves it forming quite early in the Solar System's history.
13.7 G yr ago: The Big Bang

Close study of the cosmic microwave background reveals that the universe is 13.7 gigayears old. The first few gigayears were dominated by an initial explosion and the progression of phases through which the results expanded and cooled; so I describe them below in terms of time after that initial explosion.

The first Gigayear

This far back, it is quite common to give the red-shift of observed things, which is what's typically actually observed, rather than (or as well as) the time since the present or time after the big bang (either of which is typically estimated based on the red-shift). The red-shift is normally denoted z, with log(1 +z) = b, the the hyperbolic angle describing the relative velocity as v = c.tanh(b) of the light's source. (In so far as Hubble's coefficient, the fractional rate of expansion of space, is constant: it is this hyperbolic angle, b, that has been increasing linearly with time, so 1 +z = exp(b) grows exponentially with the time since the light was emitted. For small z, log(1 +z) = b is well-approximated by z; but this fails for larger z.)

Light from the early universe has reached us by way of a long journey, during which its spectrum, as observed by the gas it was passing through, has steadily been red-shifted. As it passed through gas, the light at the frequencies making up that gas's spectral lines got absorbed, exciting or ionizing the gas; as it continued its journey, the resulting gap in the light's spectrum got red-shifted along with the rest, while some higher frequency part of that spectrum red-shifted down to the relevant spectral line, to be absorbed by gas the light passed through later. This turns each spectral line of the primordial gas (mostly hydrogen) into a succession of absorption lines in the spectrum we observe; thus the light from a distant source carries a pattern of lines that tell us when in its journey it was passing through (relatively dense) patches of neutral hydrogen. (In contrast, ionised hydrogen scatters all frequencies, but less effectively; so it thins the light relatively uniformly across its spectrum, to a less pronounced degree than neutral hydrogen absorbs at its spectral lines.)

A prominent line in hydrogen's spectrum is known as Lyman α, so this pattern of lines (or at least the part of it due to this line) is known as the Lyman-alpha forest. When the light was passing through space well-illuminated by some nearby star (or galaxy, or whatever), it was atenuated relatively uniformly (and slowly) by the ionized gas it was passing through (and only a little at the spectral lines of any transiently neutral gas in the mix); when it was far from such illumination, (more of) the gas it travelled through was neutral so absorbed light relatively efficiently, but selectively (at its absorption spectral lines), cutting a gap in the light's spectrum. The resulting pattern of lines tells us how prevalent neutral gas was in the space it passed through during the course of its journey. For more details, see Wikipedia's Chronology of the universe. Because the following is in most-recent-first order, its entries may be better read in reverse order, to give a chronological narrative.

0.15 to 1 G yr: new light (12.4 > z > 10.2; 2.6 > b > 2.4)

End of the Dark Age; fiat lux. After a respectable fraction of a gigayear, some clumps of matter had formed, collapsed into stars and started producing light. This ionized the gas filling the rest of space (which had been plasma before recombination, below); so this event is known as reionization. (Hydrogen has a hyperfine transition (the electron flipping its spin from matching the nuclear spin to its opposite) that produces a 21 cm spectral line, in the radio frequency range; such radio waves from the period of reionization have red-shifted to around 2 metres since then. This dates to (maybe) c. 0.18 Gyr into the story.) It happened over a respectable period of time, partly because early stars didn't start everywhere at the same time (although there likely was a cascade effect, as stars exert pressure on nearby gas, that tends to make it clump up and form stars) and partly because the light from stars had to reach all the places where the stars weren't. Although light now resumed bouncing off charged particles, their density was vastly reduced (compared to before recombination, below), thanks to the expansion of space, so we can still see through the gas from this later time.

Of course, the light ionizing the gas thus got absorption lines carved in its spectrum by the spectral lines of the neutral gas it ionized; and, as it red-shifted, the line grew into a trench that only ends when the light got clear of neutral gas. That, of course, means it had reached a bit of space where some other early star's light had already ionized the gas. So the light reaches us with a Gunn-Peterson trough carved in its spectrum (at high red-shift) by its early history.

The JWST is pushing back the start-date of galaxy formation, but (as at mid-2023) 0.35 Gyr ago is a later-bound.

0.38 or 0.37 M yr: matter and light decouple (z = 1089, b = 7)

The density of matter comes down to of order a billion atoms per cubic metre, a mass-density of order a femtogramme per cubic metre. Energy densities get low enough that matter was no longer being excited back into unstable states as fast as it could decay out of them, so matter condensed out and formed atoms (and presumably molecules; it was mostly hydrogen), leaving light to travel on its way, with no charged particles to scatter off and only limited spectral lines of atoms and molecules to be absorbed by.

The resulting (warm orange, 4 kK) sea of photons, initially in thermal equilibrium with the matter, has been expanding and adiabatically cooling ever since. Today, it is observable as a background so far red-shifted that it is microwave radiation. It still retains the form of black body (i.e. thermal) radiation, with a temperature of about 2.7 Kelvin: indeed, it is the most perfect match yet seen to the theoretical model of black body radiation.

Following this event, called recombination, the universe was dark for a while, as there was nothing but neutral atoms (and I suppose molecules) roughly evenly spread throughout the universe; so the period until reionization is known as the Dark Age. Before this, light was continually bouncing off loose charged particles, so we can't see earlier events (dense plasma is opaque); consequently, red-shifts aren't measured. Everything (below, i.e.) before this is theoretically extrapolated from what we can see.

five minutes
Atomic nuclei begin to freeze out from the hadron-lepton plasma, with matter densities comparable to that of air (small numbers of grams per cubic metre), initiating the transition to an era dominated by magnetohydrodynamics. I've seen this period described as starting about 100 seconds in and lasting for about three minutes. Meanwhile, the universe is expanding rapidly and, as a result (presumably adiabatically) cooling; its temperature is many MK (mega-Kelvin; so thermal radiation is X-rays and γ-rays). The cooling leads to the process stopping. By then we have three parts Hydrogen (including its isotopes Deuterium and Tritium) to one part Helium and some faint traces of Lithium. Beryllium's light isotopes' instability choked the process there. All the nuclear activity in stars over the 13.7 Gyr since has shifted the proportions of elements from 75% H, 25% He to 74% H, 25% He and 1% everything else.
1 second
The portion of the universe that we can see today is about 20 light years wide at this point. Exotic matter has almost all decayed into garden variety matter, albeit squashed together with the density of neutronium in a modern neutron star and at a temperature of ten gigakelvin. Up to this point, interactions with the energetic leptons have been keeping the proportions of neutrons and protons roughly equal, but the falling temperature begins to render those interactions weak, leading to the neutron's greater mass tending to bias the mix towards the proton. By the time weak coupling between hadrons and leptons has faded away and the resulting freeze out has completed, protons out-number neutrons six to one. The free neutron's instability (albeit with a half-life of order ten minutes) could only push that bias further in the proton's favour – except in so far as the neutrons combined with protons.
10 µs
Phase transition from quark-gluon liquid to hadron-lepton plasma. Gluons bind quarks together into hadrons, among which the less stable more often decay into the more stable (such as protons and neutrons) than the collision-induced reactions that work in the opposite direction can reverse that process. Such collisions become rarer as the cooling plasma allows leptons to survive long enough to begin to dominate the dynamics via which these hadrons soon enough find themselves interacting.
picosecond, 1e-12
A picosecond into its history, the universe has expanded, since the start of inflation, by a factor of 1e27 (so a factor of ten since the grouchosecond state); every femtometre (the scale of modern atomic nuclei) has expanded to a terametre (the scale of our solar system). That has also cooled the universe dramatically. (Modern particle smashers can create conditions comparable to those that existed this early, letting us get a rather more concrete understanding of the sorts of dynamics that prevailed.) The electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces become (after around 10 to 100 picoseconds, at a petakelvin temperature) distinguishable; transient leptons last long enough between reactions to influence the dynamics of the quark-gluon plasma that begins to take shape. Clusters of quarks begin sticking together, trying out the different configurations in which they can exist relatively stably, between annihilations. This creates conditions in which the weak force's violation of charge-parity symmetry might create biases in the mix between matter and antimatter. By the time the universe was ten picosecnds old, the temperature had dropped to 3 petakelvin.
grouchosecond, 1e-30 seconds
A hundredth of a grouchosecond into the history of the universe, explosive inflation gives way to expansion at a comparatively relaxed rate. It remains extremely hot and dense, by modern standards, although it is less dense by a factor on the scale of 1e78 and its temperature has plummeted by a similarly huge factor, compared to the start of inflation. As a result, the quarks and gluons remain transient, albeit gaining in stability as the temperature and density drop.
1e-36 seconds
The strong nuclear force decouples from the other forces, quarks and the gluons that bind them get to exist, albeit transiently, but their relative stability affects the noise and the universe – quite abruptly and extremely rapidly – expands. This is known as the era of inflation. A snapshot of the random quantum fluctuations, that were all the structure the universe had before inflation started, is captured by this sudden rapid expansion and consequent cooling, seeding the otherwise largely uniform universe with irregularities.
Planck time
The Planck time is a fraction of 1e-42 seconds. (The exact fraction depends on some choices you get to make when defining your Planck units.) Our ignorance of how the modern universe behaves on Planck length and time scales is reflected in our ignorance of what The Universe was up to when it was that young. We're fairly sure it was immensely hot and dense, but that's about all we're sure of. It is usual to suppose that under such conditions the distinctions between the various kinds of matter and forces between them are oblitterated by noise. The time up to this point is sometimes referred to as the Grand Unification Epoch. Random quantum fluctuations within the roiling storm are all the structure there is; the spectacularly high temperature would otherwise make all uniform.

Lineweaver and Patel, in October 2023, published a paper titled All objects and some questions that includes a log(mass) vs log(length scale) chart of all bodies in the universe and some interesting analysis of the evolution of the universe since the big bang.

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