- An interactive map developed by a software engineer lets you see where your hometown was located on Earth in the ancient past.
- The map also gives an overview of what fossils lie in each region, and when different life forms emerged.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Have you ever wondered what the area around your hometown was like during the Cretaceous period, when the Tyrannosaurus rex roamed? How about before then, when Earth had just one supercontinent?
Now you can find out.
An interactive map developed by software engineer Ian Webster lets users track the locations of modern-day landmarks back hundreds of millions of years.
If you type in the name of your hometown or current city, the map can pinpoint its location on the planet in a given era, going back 750 million years (that’s about 150 million years before multicellular life emerged).
New York City, for example, formed part of the Rodinia supercontinent 750 million years ago.
Webster’s map relies on the work of geologist and paleogeographer Christopher Scotese, who created his own chronological map in 1998 that charts how tectonic plates shifted throughout Earth’s history.
The planet’s continents are constantly moving because of these 15 to 20 plates, which in turn lie on Earth’s molten core like a cracked shell on honey. Heat from within the core causes these plates to move, sometimes towards each other and sometimes away. As a result, the continents of today look very different than they did a few hundred million years ago.
Webster told Business Insider that he got the idea to build the interactive map while studying tectonic plates.
“The science was fascinating, but you had to install special scientific software to explore the results,” he said. So he decided to make that data more accessible.
Not all places on our current-day planet show up far into the past in Webster’s map, since the geological formations on which they rest may not have developed or emerged yet. For instance, Seattle, Washington, partially rests on the modern-day Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, which originated from formations that emerged around 250 million years ago. Thus, it only becomes trackable starting around the 240-million-year mark. At that point, Seattle was part of Pangaea. (It’s the red dot in the image below.)
New York City, on the other hand, was located in the middle of Rodinia 750 million years ago:
Then 470 million years ago, near the end of the Early Ordovician Period, New York’s land was in an ocean.
The map doesn’t provide many granular details about specific places during a given period of history, but it does offer snapshots of life on Earth over time. For instance, the first dinosaurs emerged about 220 million years ago, as Earth recovered from a mass extinction event.
The map also includes a partial list of fossils found near a given town or city. Around New York, for example, paleontologists have found fossils of the pteranodon, a flying, kite-like reptile with a wingspan of 20 feet.
Near Green River, Wyoming, meanwhile remnants of Triceratops have been discovered.
Webster told Business Insider that he wants teachers, students, and anyone interested in the history and science of Earth to use his map.
“I hope that it will inspire curiosity about our planet’s past and ongoing natural processes,” he said.