In chronostratigraphy, a stage is a succession of rock strata laid down in an single age on the geologic timescale, which usually represents millions of years of deposition. A given stage of rock and the corresponding age of time will by convention have the same name, and the same boundaries.
Rock series are divided into stages, just as geological epochs are divided into ages. Stages can be divided into smaller stratigraphic units called chronozones. (See chart at right for full terminology hierarchy.)
The term faunal stage is sometimes used, referring to the fact that the same fauna (animals) are found throughout the layer (by definition).
Stages are primarily defined by a consistent set of fossils (biostratigraphy) or a consistent magnetic polarity (see paleomagnetism) in the rock. Usually one or more index fossils that are common, found worldwide, easily recognized, and limited to a single, or at most a few, stages are used to define the stage's bottom.
Thus, for example, in the (still used) local North American subdivision paleontologist finding fragments of the trilobite Olenellus would identify the beds as being from the Waucoban Stage whereas fragments of a later trilobite such as Elrathia would identify the stage as Albertan.
Stages were very important in the 19th and early 20th century as they were the major tool available for dating rock beds until the development of seismology and radioactive dating in the second half of the 20th Century. Microscopic analysis of the rock (petrology) is also sometimes useful in confirming that a given segment of rock is from a particular age.
Originally, faunal stages were only defined regionally; however as additional stratigraphic tools, and especially geochonological ones, were developed, stages were defined over broader and broader areas. More recently, the adjective "faunal" has been dropped as regional and global correlations of rock sequences have become relatively certain and there is less need for faunal labels to define the age of formations. A tendency developed to use European and, to a lesser extent, Asian, stage names for the same time period world wide, even though the faunas in other regions often had little in common with the stage as originally defined.
- The Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP): overview
- Chart of The Global Boundary Stratotype Sections and Points (GSSP): chart
- Geotime chart displaying geologic time periods compared to the fossil record - Deals with chronology and classifications for laymen (not GSSPs)
- Hedberg, H.D., (editor), International stratigraphic guide: A guide to stratigraphic classification, terminology, and procedure, New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1976
- International Stratigraphic Chart from the International Commission on Stratigraphy
- USA National Park Service
- Washington State University
- Web Geological Time Machine
- Eon or Aeon, Math Words - An alphabetical index