GEOL20230 History of life on Earth

Academic Year 2023/2024

The fossil record is the principal source of data on the history of life on Earth. This module provides an introduction to the geological record of key groups of plant and animals, and what this reveals about their evolutionary biology. The module also discusses how this date informs on the macroevolution of these groups and the different applications in Earth and Environmental Science, including relative dating of rocks, reconstructing paleoenvironments including how ecosystems respond to environmental change at local to global scales. The module should be relevant to anyone with a general interest in natural sciences, including, but not only, Geology, Earth and Environmental Science, Geography, and Biology.

Show/hide contentOpenClose All

Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of the module you will have gained the following:

An introduction to the geological record and anatomy of key groups (plants, sponges, corals, molluscs, brachiopods echinoderms, arthropods, hemichordates and chordates)

An understanding of the evolutionary inter-relationships of different animal groups

An awareness of how fossil data can be used to reconstruct the broad patterns of life on Earth through time, including the evolution of marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

An insights into both the products and processes of evolution provided by the fossil record

A recognition of how complex the inter-relationship between the geosphere and biosphere is and how they have co-evolved through geological time.

Indicative Module Content:

The module is in two parts: (a) an introduction to the palaeobiology of key invertebrate groups; the chordates; and, plants. (b) a more extended study of key intervals in geological time, including the early evolution of animal ecosystems; conquest of the land; rise of the reptiles; evolution of the modern biosphere.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Autonomous Student Learning




Online Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Series of online lectures, learning exercises and reading. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Examination: Mid-term class test - Part B Week 9 No Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Examination: Mid-term class test - part A Week 5 No Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Examination: End of trimester exam 1 hour End of Trimester Exam No Standard conversion grade scale 40% No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn Yes - 1 Hour
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• Online automated feedback
• Self-assessment activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Pre-exam quizzes are provided with and without correct answers, to allow students to measure their preparedness for MCQ exams. Results of mid term tests are provided within two weeks as far as possible.