The Phanerozoic Eon is the current eon in the geologic timescale, and the one during which abundant animal life has existed. It covers roughly 545 million years and goes back to the time when diverse hard-shelled animals first appeared. Its name derives from the Greek meaning visible life, referring to the large size of organisms since the Cambrian explosion. The time previous to the start of the Phanerozoic was formerly called the Precambrian (now divided into the Hadean, Archaean and Proterozoic eons).
The exact time of the boundary between the Phanerozoic and the Proterozoic is slightly uncertain. In the 19th Century, the boundary was set at the first abundant metazoan fossils. But several hundred taxa of Proterozoic metazoa have been identified since systematic study of those forms started in the 1950s. Most geologists and paleontologists would probably set the Proterozoic-Phanerozoic boundary either at the classic point where the first trilobites and archaeocyatha appear; at the first appearance of a complex feeding burrow called Trichophycus pedum; or at the first appearance of a group of small, generally disarticulated, armored forms termed 'the small shelly fauna'. The three different dividing points are within a few million years of each other.
The Phanerozoic is divided into three eras: the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. In the older literature, the term Phanerozoic is generally used as a label for the time period of interest to paleontologists, but that use of the term seems to be falling into disuse in more modern literature.
The time span of the Phanerozoic includes the rapid emergence of a number of animal phyla; the evolution of these phyla into diverse forms; the emergence of terrestrial plants; the development of complex plants; the evolution of fish; the emergence of terrestrial animals; and the development of modern faunas. During the period covered, continents drifted about, eventually collecting into a single landmass known as Pangea and then splitting up into the current continental landmasses.
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