323.2 ± 0.4 – 298.9 ± 0.15 Ma
Name formalityFormal
Usage information
Celestial bodyEarth
Regional usageGlobal (ICS)
Time scale(s) usedICS Time Scale
Chronological unitSubperiod
Time span formalityFormal
Lower boundary definitionFirst appearance of the Conodont Declinognathodus nodiliferus.
Lower boundary GSSPArrow Canyon, Nevada, United States
36°44′00″N 114°46′40″W / 36.7333°N 114.7778°W / 36.7333; -114.7778
Lower GSSP ratified1996[2]
Upper boundary definitionFirst appearance of the Conodont Streptognathodus isolatus within the morphotype Streptognathodus wabaunsensis chronocline.
Upper boundary GSSPAidaralash, Ural Mountains, Kazakhstan
50°14′45″N 57°53′29″E / 50.2458°N 57.8914°E / 50.2458; 57.8914
Upper GSSP ratified1996[3]

The Pennsylvanian (/ˌpɛnsəlˈvni.ən/ pen-səl-VAYN-i-ən,[4] also known as Upper Carboniferous or Late Carboniferous) is, on the ICS geologic timescale, the younger of two subperiods (or upper of two subsystems) of the Carboniferous Period. It lasted from roughly 323.2 million years ago to 298.9 million years ago. As with most other geochronologic units, the rock beds that define the Pennsylvanian are well identified, but the exact date of the start and end are uncertain by a few hundred thousand years. The Pennsylvanian is named after the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, where the coal-producing beds of this age are widespread.[5]

The division between Pennsylvanian and Mississippian comes from North American stratigraphy. In North America, where the early Carboniferous beds are primarily marine limestones, the Pennsylvanian was in the past treated as a full-fledged geologic period between the Mississippian and the Permian. In parts of Europe, the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian are one more-or-less continuous sequence of lowland continental deposits and are grouped together as the Carboniferous Period. The current internationally used geologic timescale of the ICS gives the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian the rank of subperiods, subdivisions of the Carboniferous Period.


Generalized geographic map of the United States in middle Pennsylvanian time


All modern classes of fungi have been found in rocks of Pennsylvanian age.[6]


The major forms of life at this time were the arthropods. Arthropods were far larger than modern ones. Arthropleura, a giant millipede, was a common sight and the giant griffinfly Meganeura "flew the skies".[7] It is commonly considered that is because of high oxygen level, however some of those large arthropod records are also known from period with relatively low oxygen, which suggest high oxygen pressure may not have been a primary reason for their gigantism.[8][9]


Amphibians were diverse and common; some were several meters long as adults. The collapse of the rainforest ecology in the mid-Pennsylvanian (between the Moscovian and the Kasimovian) removed many amphibian species that did not survive as well in the cooler, drier conditions. Amniotes, however, prospered due to specific key adaptations.[10] One of the greatest evolutionary innovations of the Carboniferous was the amniote egg, which allowed for the further exploitation of the land by certain tetrapods. These included the earliest sauropsid reptiles (Hylonomus), and the earliest known "pelycosaur" synapsids (Archaeothyris). Small lizard-like animals quickly gave rise to many descendants. Amniotes underwent a major evolutionary radiation, in response to the drier climate that followed the rainforest collapse.

For some reason, pelycosaurs were able to reach larger sizes before reptiles could, and this trend continued until the end of the Permian, during which their cynodont descendants became smaller and nocturnal, as the reptilian archosaurs took over, although dicynodonts would remain megafaunal until their extinction at the end of the Triassic.[10][11] Most pre-rainforest collapse tetrapods remained smaller, probably due to the land being primarily occupied by the gigantic millipedes, scorpions, and flying insects. After the rainforest collapse, the giant arthropods disappeared, allowing amniote tetrapods to achieve larger sizes.


The Pennsylvanian has been variously subdivided. The international timescale of the ICS follows the Russian subdivision into four stages:[12]

North American subdivision is into five stages, but not precisely the same, with additional (older) Appalachian series names following:[13][14]

The Virgilian or Conemaugh corresponds to the Gzhelian plus the uppermost Kasimovian. The Missourian or Monongahela corresponds to the rest of the Kasimovian. The Desmoinesian or Allegheny corresponds to the upper half of the Moscovian. The Atokan or upper Pottsville corresponds to the lower half of the Moscovian. The Morrowan corresponds to the Bashkirian.

In the European subdivision, the Carboniferous is divided into two epochs: Dinantian (early) and Silesian (late). The Silesian starts earlier than the Pennsylvanian and is divided in three ages:[15]


  1. ^ "Chart/Time Scale". International Commission on Stratigraphy.
  2. ^ Lane, H.; Brenckle, Paul; Baesemann, J.; Richards, Barry (December 1999). "The IUGS boundary in the middle of the Carboniferous: Arrow Canyon, Nevada, USA" (PDF). Episodes. 22 (4): 272–283. doi:10.18814/epiiugs/1999/v22i4/003. Retrieved December 8, 2020.
  3. ^ Davydov, Vladimir; Glenister, Brian; Spinosa, Claude; Ritter, Scott; Chernykh, V.; Wardlaw, B.; Snyder, W. (March 1998). "Proposal of Aidaralash as Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) for base of the Permian System" (PDF). Episodes. 21: 11–18. doi:10.18814/epiiugs/1998/v21i1/003. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  4. ^ "Pennsylvanian". Unabridged (Online). n.d.
  5. ^ Gradstein, Felix M.; James G. Ogg; Alan G. Smith (2005). A Geologic Time Scale 2004. Cambridge University Press. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-521-78673-7.
  6. ^ Blackwell, Meredith, Vilgalys, Rytas, James, Timothy Y., and Taylor, John W. Fungi. Eumycota: mushrooms, sac fungi, yeast, molds, rusts, smuts, etc., February 2008, Tree of Life Web Project
  7. ^ Paul D. Taylor, David N. Lewis (2005). Fossil Invertebrates. The Natural History Museum; First North American edition. p. 160. ISBN 0565091832.
  8. ^ Gand, G.; Nel, A. N.; Fleck, G.; Garrouste, R. (January 1, 2008). "The Odonatoptera of the Late Permian Lodève Basin (Insecta)". Journal of Iberian Geology (in Spanish). 34 (1): 115–122. ISSN 1886-7995.
  9. ^ Davies, Neil S.; Garwood, Russell J.; McMahon, William J.; Schneider, Joerg W.; Shillito, Anthony P. (December 21, 2021). "The largest arthropod in Earth history: insights from newly discoveredArthropleuraremains (Serpukhovian Stainmore Formation, Northumberland, England)". Journal of the Geological Society. 179 (3). doi:10.1144/jgs2021-115. ISSN 0016-7649.
  10. ^ a b Sahney, S.; Benton, M.J.; Falcon-Lang, H.J. (2010). "Rainforest collapse triggered Pennsylvanian tetrapod diversification in Euramerica". Geology. 38 (12): 1079–1082. doi:10.1130/G31182.1.
  11. ^ Kazlev MA (1998). "Palaeos Paleozoic: Carboniferous: The Carboniferous Period". Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2012.
  12. ^ Cohen et al. 2013
  13. ^ Rice, Charles L. "Pennsylvanian system". Contributions to the geology of Kentucky. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  14. ^ Kues, Barry S. (November 2001). "The Pennsylvanian System in New Mexico— overview with suggestions for revision of stratigraphic nomenclature" (PDF). New Mexico Geology: 103–122. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  15. ^ Heckel, P.H.; Clayton, G. (2006). "The Carboniferous System. Use of the new official names for the subsystems, series, and stages" (PDF). Geologica Acta. 4 (3): 403–407. doi:10.1344/105.000000354. Retrieved October 26, 2020.