Fossil Record 2

The Fossil Record 2 by Benton, M. J. (editor) 1993. Chapman & Hall, London, 845 pp.

The Fossil Record 2 is a near-complete listing of the diversity of life through time, compiled at the level of the family. We have made the basic data available in various forms so you can download all or part of the listing, or search for particular families, orders, phyla.

Introduction to the database

The family range data from The Fossil Record 2 were compiled in Excel by Dr Mary Benton. She has recorded all families, or family-surrogates (plesions, undivided orders, unassigned species and genera), one per line. Additional data on major suprafamilial assignments and broad habitat designations (marine, continental, littoral, etc.) are noted in columns 2-5. The recorded range of each family is then indicated in the subsequent columns 6-91, which correspond to the Hadean to Holocene time divisions used in The Fossil Record 2.

Each phylum, or class, is recorded independently in its own file, and these may be located on the downloads page. There are two files for angiosperms since the stratigraphic range data have been recorded in several different ways. The file ‘Angiosperms 1’ is based on macroplant remains. The plant part that gives the oldest record is indicated in column 4. Where there is no fossil record, NFR is entered in column 92. Ranges in ‘Angiosperms 1’ begin with earliest mention in the Plant Fossil Record, and not with the earliest mention in the comments section in the text of The Fossil Record 2. The file ‘Angiosperms 2’ contains age evidence from macroplant remains and palynomorphs as well, based on data from Muller, given in The Fossil Record 2. Where some family pollens are identical to another, and cannot be exclusively identified, the age range of that which can be identified is included; e.g. Amaranthaceae is the same as Chenopodiaceae, so that the Muller first for Amaranthaceae is given as that for Chenopodiaceae, i.e. col. 77.


  • Download data from individual chapters of the book on the downloads page.
  • Download the raw data on all, marine and continental organisms here.
  • Download tallies of the data at different taxonomic levels here.

Entire Data Set, Stage by Stage

The summary data set lists basic data derived from The Fossil Record 2 (Benton, 1993), on the diversity, origination, and extinction of all life, continental life, and marine life from the Vendian to the present-day. These are the raw data used for plots in Benton (1995), and the Excel (.xlsx) file can be downloaded here.

In this file, the data columns are as follows; figures in Benton (1995) are also indicated:

  • Stage: name of geological stage
  • Duration: duration, in millions of years, or the stage (data from Harland et al., 1990)
  • Midpoint: midpoint of the stage, in millions of years (data from Harland et al., 1990)
  • Columns 1-6: Number of families (Benton, 1995, Fig. 1A-C)
  • Columns 7-12: log (Diversity) (Benton, 1995, Fig. 2A-C)
  • Columns 13-18: Total origination (Benton, 1995, Fig. 3A-C)
  • Columns 19-24: Total extinction (Benton, 1995, Fig. 4A-C)
  • Columns 25-30: Percent extinction (Benton, 1995, Fig. 5A-C)
  • Columns 31-36: Total extinction rate (Benton, 1995, Fig. 6A-C)
  • Columns 37-42: Per-family extinction rate (Benton, 1995, Fig. 7A-C)

In each block of six columns, there are three pairs, minimum and maximum values respectively, for all organisms, continental organisms, and marine organisms, in that order. As an example:

  • Column 1: Number of families, all organisms, minimum
  • Column 2: Number of families, all organisms, maximum
  • Column 3: Number of families, continental organisms, minimum
  • Column 4: Number of families, continental organisms, maximum
  • Column 5: Number of families, marine organisms, minimum
  • Column 6: Number of families, marine organisms, maximum

The definitions of ‘all’, ‘continental’, and ‘marine’, are given in Benton (1995). The definitions of ‘minimum’ and ‘maximum’ need some explanation. These are not simply the absolute minimum or maximum values that could be found for each stage. They are derived from minimum and maximum range bars of individual families. These are indicated in Benton (1993), where information on definite first and last fossils, and possible first and last fossils, is given. Definitions:

  • The minimum range is the minimal stratigraphic range of a family that is based on fossils that are confidently assigned to the family and confidently dated for both first and last records.
  • The maximum range is the greatest possible stratigraphic range of a family, including perhaps dubious first and last specimens.


Download tallies of all FR2 data, counted by phyla, classes, orders, and families, through time here. We thank Eric Holman (University of California, Los Angeles) for producing this listing.

These file contains counts of originations, extinctions, taxon richness, and rates, for phyla of organisms, extracted from The Fossil Record 2. The columns of data are as follows:

  1. Name of interval, abbreviated as in FR2, except that the first interval is everything before the Vendian
  2. Age at midpoint of interval
  3. Numbers of originations in interval
  4. Numbers of extinctions in interval
  5. Total number of taxa extant in interval
  6. Originations / total
  7. Extinctions / total
  8. Originations / (total * length of interval)
  9. Extinctions / (total * length of interval)
  10. Originations / (originations + extinctions)

These totals are based on a conservative interpretation of the data. Questioned or uncertain taxa at any mandatory rank are omitted, as are questioned (parts of) ranges. Ranges stated to lower resolution are treated as in the ‘minimum data’ in Benton (1995): they are assumed to begin in the last stage in the stated interval, and end in the first stage in the stated interval; ranges of a single interval longer than a stage are omitted (about 6% of families). Angiosperms are omitted.


  • Benton, M. J. (1993) The Fossil Record 2. Chapman & Hall, London, 845 pp.
  • Benton, M. J. (1995) Diversification and extinction in the history of life. Science, 268, 52-58. pdf
  • Harland, W. B., Armstrong, R. L., Cox, A. V., Craig, L. E., Smith, A. G., and Smith, D. G. (1990) A Geologic Time Scale 1989. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 263 pp.