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The Neoproterozoic Era is the unit of geologic time from 1,000 to 542.0 ± 1.0 million years ago.[1] The terminal Era of the formal Proterozoic Eon (or the informal "Precambrian"), it is further subdivided into the Tonian, Cryogenian, and Ediacaran Periods. The most severe glaciation known in the geologic record occurred during the Cryogenian, when ice sheets reached the equator and formed a possible "Snowball Earth". The earliest fossils of multicellular life are found in the Ediacaran, including the earliest animals.



At the onset of the Neoproterozoic the supercontinent Rodinia, which had assembled during the late Mesoproterozoic, straddled the equator. During the Tonian, rifting commenced which broke Rodinia into a number of individual land masses. Possibly as a consequence of the low-latitude position of most continents, several large-scale glacial events occurred during the Era including the Sturtian and Marinoan glaciations. These glaciations are believed to have been so severe that there were ice sheets at the equator--a state known as the "Snowball Earth".


The Russians divide the Siberian Neoproterozoic into the Baikalian from 850 to 650Ma (loosely equivalent to the Cryogenian), which overlies the Mayanian, from 1100 to 850Ma, then the Aimchanian.[2]


The idea of the Neoproterozoic Era came on the scene relatively recently — after about 1960. Nineteenth century paleontologists set the start of multicelled life at the first appearance of hard-shelled animals called trilobites and archeocyathids. This set the beginning of the Cambrian period. In the early 20th century, paleontologists started finding fossils of multicellular animals that predated the Cambrian boundary. A complex fauna was found in South West Africa in the 1920s but was misdated. Another was found in South Australia in the 1940s but was not thoroughly examined until the late 1950s. Other possible early fossils were found in Russia, England, Canada, and elsewhere (see Ediacaran biota). Some were determined to be pseudofossils, but others were revealed to be members of rather complex biotas that are still poorly understood. At least 25 regions worldwide yielded metazoan fossils prior to the classical Cambrian boundary.[3]

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