In high schools around the world, kids learn about evolution and how much the Earth has changed over billions of years. There are many periods in the Earth's history, each contributing fascinating geological and evolutionary breakthroughs. But there's one period that many scientists find interesting: "The Boring Billion", a term coined by paleontologist Martin Brasier when describing a "rather dull" billion years included in the Proterozoic Eon.
The Boring Billion took place from about 1,800 to 800 million years ago. It was a period of around a billion years when the Earth's evolution seemed to come to a grinding halt. Once in constant flux, the planet was suddenly experiencing "geochemical statis" and an extended period of glacial stagnation. To describe this "anomalous" billion, Scientist Roger Buick even paraphrased Winston Churchill's immortal words, saying, "Never in the course of Earth's history did so little happen to so much for so long".
So how boring was boring exactly? Well, literally nothing seemed to be happening. While it was a much warmer planet Earth back then, there is no evidence that there was a period of any significant and dramatic changes in climate. Atmospheric oxygen was so low that the global oceans turned black and sludge-like, and stinky too, as it was filled with iron and toxic hydrogen sulfide, which gives rotten eggs that nasty smell.
There was no freezing or heating of ice, and everything was stale, barren and unsuitable for survival. Biological evolution slowed down, and the only things flourishing were extremely simple eukaryotes, tiny bacteria and very primitive, non-evolved, unicellular organisms.
Scientists have always wondered what happened to cause something as massive as our planet, home to many moving pieces that are interconnected and trigger each other to change, just to stop changing.
There have been many theories to come out to try and explain the non-change. One is that the Earth's core started to cool down which slowed down all the usual changes, bringing a sense of stillness and stability to the surface, even to the often moving tectonic plates.
However, what is impressive about the Boring Billion is that, upon closer look, change was occurring at a microscopic scale. The building blocks of life that we take for granted today, mainly those simple eukaryotic cells, or cells that have a nucleus with genetic material, quietly took advantage of one billion years of stillness and developed into a more complex organism.
And due to their evolution, we are alive today. They figured out how to adapt and needed very stable conditions to actually get it right, and it took a billion years' worth of trial and error to get it right.
Directed by: David Kelly