The Permian period lasted from 290 to 248 million years ago and was the last period of the Paleozoic Era. The distinction between the Paleozoic and the Mesozoic is made at the end of the Permian in recognition of the largest mass extinction recorded in the history of life on Earth. It affected many groups of organisms in many different environments, but it affected marine communities the most by far, causing the extinction of most of the marine invertebrates of the time. Some groups survived the Permian mass extinction in greatly diminished numbers, but they never again reached the ecological dominance they once had, clearing the way for another group of sea life. On land, a relatively smaller extinction of diapsids and synapsids cleared the way for other forms to dominate, and led to what has been called the "Age of Dinosaurs". Also, the great forests of fern-like plants shifted to gymnosperms, plants with their offspring enclosed within seeds. Modern conifers, the most familiar gymnosperms of today, first appear in the fossil record of the Permian. In all, the Permian was the last of the time for some organisms and a pivotal point for others, and life on earth was never the same again.
The global geography of the Permian included massive areas of land and water. By the beginning of the Permian, the motion of the Earth's crustal plates had brought much of the total land together, fused in a supercontinent known as Pangea. Many of the continents of today in somewhat intact form met in Pangea (only Asia was broken up at the time), which stretched from the northern to the southern pole. Most of the rest of the surface area of the Earth was occupied by a corresponding single ocean, known as Panthalassa, with a smaller sea to the east of Pangea known as Tethys.
Models indicate that the interior regions of this vast continent were probably dry, with great seasonal fluctuations, because of the lack of the moderating effect of nearby bodies of water, and that only portions received rainfall throughout the year. The ocean itself still has little known about it. There are indications that the climate of the Earth shifted at this time, and that glaciation decreased, as the interiors of continents became drier.
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The chart at left shows the major subdivisions of the Permian Period. Use the arrows to back to the Carboniferous, or go forward to the earliest Mesozoic Era, the Triassic Period.
The Permian Period is part of the Paleozoic Era.
Find out more about the Permian paleontology and geology of North America at the Paleontology Portal.