Special Report

What the World Was Like a Million Years Ago

What was Earth like one million years ago? If our planet is 4.54 billion years old, a million years is not much more than an eyeblink in eternity. In human terms, however, what the world was like a million years ago is difficult to comprehend. Science has helped us understand the distant past by unlocking many of its mysteries and opened a window on what life must have been like on our planet around 1,000,000 BC.

To get a picture of what the world was like a million years ago, 24/7 Tempo has reviewed materials and information from sources such as such as livescience.com, the British Geological Survey, nasa.gov and tapped the expertise of university academics who specialize in geology and earth science.

If you had observed Earth from space a million years ago, the alignment of the continents would have looked very much like it does today. But upon closer inspection, the differences would become apparent. This was the Pleistocene Epoch, when Earth was colder and probably experiencing one of its ice ages, which were frequent. The amount of frozen water would have dropped the level of oceans. The lower sea level would have exposed land bridges between continents, allowing freer migration for our ancestors as well as animals and plants.

There were large lakes in the western part of the United States that are now gone, but the Great Lakes in middle America were not yet created. England, Shakespeare’s “sceptered isle,” was joined with the European continent.

Crocodiles, lizards, turtles, pythons, and other reptiles proliferated during this time, as did birds such as ducks, geese, hawks, and eagles. Larger versions of contemporary animals such as sloths, venomous lizards, marsupials, and armadillos roamed the landscape, before they were doomed by natural selection. Our ancestors also might have played a role in their demise by hunting them. Modern-day humans are disrupting the habitats of creatures all over the world through overbuilding, poaching, and generating pollution. Here are animals humans are driving to extinction.

Because of glacial activity, water and vegetation was scarce. There were some conifer trees like pine and cypress, and deciduous trees such as oak and beech. 

As for our human ancestors, they were evolving into what would become modern humankind. They were crafting tools and employing fire. And they were doing their best not to become a meal for the ravenous mammals such as saber-toothed tigers and cave lions. It would take a while before humans would dominate the planet. Here are the other deadliest mammals in the world.

Click here to read about what the world was like a million years ago


To help determine what the world was like a million years ago, 24/7 Tempo reviewed sources such as livescience.com, nasa.gov, universitytoday.com, space.com; insidescience.org; media sites such as pbs.org; and consulted experts including Ron Blakey, geology professor emeritus at North Arizona University, and Gail Ashley, professor emerita, at the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University.