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The Timeline of the Ages

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Years ago, I came across this website by Paul Melroy with an incredible fan-made timeline of the ages past for the Shadowrun/Earthdawn universe.  I believe he did a great job of “filling in the gaps” of the canon timeline and as such it’s an excellent resource for GMs.  That said, upon further examination it had some issues:
•   It uses the version of the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar that counts the Sixth Age as starting on Dec 24, 2011 as opposed to Dec 21, 2012; I definitely endorse the latter date from what research I’ve done.
•   The Toba Catastrophe occurred around 72000 BCE, not around 65589 BCE as per his version of the timeline.  In addition, it looks like there’s now evidence that it had less of an impact than originally theorized.  It’s not fully settled yet, but from what I’ve reviewed the “Not A Doomsday For Humans” side seems to have more evidence.  That said, this debate looks to continue for some time.
•   Behavioral Modernity probably first appeared somewhere around the time of the Toba Catastrophe, but it doesn’t look like that was the catalyst.  The most recent evidence I’ve been able to look up indicates that it was likely a more gradual process.
•   Neanderthals were around until about 38000 BCE, whereas his version of the timeline had them disappearing much earlier around 55189 BCE.

Accordingly, I made some changes.  I also started further back – like, way further back.  Additionally, I note that we have a term – “The Awakening” – to describe the return of the magic to the world, but we don’t have one to describe magic leaving the world.  So, I have termed this “The Slumber.”

The Mesoamerican Calendar

This calendar was used by several pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures – most notably the Maya – hence it’s often referred to as the Mayan Long Count Calendar.  Every age (a single Long Count) is a cycle of creation and destruction, with each new age heralding a rebirth of the world.

Time Measurements
1 day = a K’in
20 days = a Winal (20 K’ins)
360 days = a Tun (18 Winals)
7,200 days = a K’atun (20 Tuns)
144,000 days = a Bak’tun (20 K’atuns)
2,880,000 days = a Piktun (20 Bak’tuns)
57,600,000 days = a Kalabtun (20 Piktuns)
1,152,000,000 days = a K’inichiltun (20 Kalabtuns)
23,040,000,000 days = an Alautun (20 K’inichiltuns)
460,800,000,000 days = a Hablatun (20 Alautuns)

A “Long Count” is 13 Bak’tuns, or 1,872,000 days.  Divided by 365.2422 days, that’s 5,125.37 years.  This is the length of each age in the Earthdawn/Shadowrun universe.

Many people might wonder why the early Mesoamericans came up with this scheme.  Is there any special significance to the Long Count length of time?  Well…maybe.  Axial Precession, also known as the precession of the equinoxes, is a slow but steady change in the orientation of Earth’s rotational axis; it wobbles a bit like a spinning top.  Over time, the constellations that are visible on the equinoxes change.  This entire cycle takes approximately 26,000 years.  The ancient Greeks and Egyptians discovered this, and some historians have argued that the Mayan Long Count was an effort to calculate it as well.  5,125 years is approximately 1/5th of a precessional cycle.  So, where does that put us now?  After five of those periods – completing a precessional cycle – we’d be just starting the Sixth World according to their calendar.

The pages here, here, and here have some more information, and I highly recommend this documentary as well (you can also find the DVD on Amazon, like I did).  If you really want some in-depth information, one of the historians who endorses the Axial Precession argument has written this book which goes into much greater astronomical detail.

Some Relevant Quotes
•   “The most commonly accepted correlation is the “Goodman, Martinez, Thompson” correlation (GMT correlation).  The GMT correlation establishes that the creation date occurred on September 6 (Julian) or August 11 (Gregorian), 3114 BCE (-3113 astronomical), Julian day number (JDN) 584283.”
•   “The Long Count calendar identifies a date by counting the number of days from a starting date that is generally calculated to be August 11, 3114 BCE in the proleptic Gregorian calendar…”

The Ancient Past

The multiverse, by definition, contains many universes.  Most of these are places of conventional matter and energy, but others have…stranger physical laws.  One such strange universe became entangled with a more mundane one during its early years, and it changed the course of their histories forever.

Long ago – about 4.6 billion years – there was a gravitational collapse of part of a giant interstellar cloud in our galaxy.  While this eventually resulted in both the formation of our sun and a protoplanetary disk out of which our planets would be formed, it also resulted in a highly-anomalous event.  The center of the collapse very briefly evoked the formation of an Einstein-Rosen bridge that reached into a universe very different from our own.  For good or ill, that brief connection was enough to intertwine them.

It, too, was a relatively young universe and its…malleable nature and physical laws proved highly susceptible to influence from the far more rigid structure and physical laws of our universe.  And so as planets formed in our solar system that inspired the formation of different planes of existence within its manifold structure.  Life gradually evolved on Earth and that proved to resonate more strongly more than anything else in our solar system to that other universe.  Slowly but surely, the focus of the intertwined connection between the two universes shifted to Earth and its expanding collection of simple life forms.  Within in its various planes of existence, simple life forms similarly began evolving in the strange universe.

At this point in history, the connection between the two universes was rather one-sided.  Earth influenced its strange neighbor a dimension to the left, but not the other way around.  This was because of the formation of the great Precambrian astral barrier.  When the protoplanetary disk slowly coalesced into planets it had an additional impact on the connection to its newly-neighboring universe.  That being the creation of a dimensional “wall” between the universes.  As dust grains accreted and hardened into planets, so too did this barrier harden into an something like a one-way mirror.  Essentially, the strange neighboring universe could still “see” Earth, but not substantially “touch” it, though its influence would still be felt.  And in the eons to come this mostly one-sided relationship that the barrier cemented would prove crucial to the safety of life on Earth.

As such, with this barrier in place the strange universe’s “view” of Earth was somewhat hazy.  So, its mirroring of terrestrial life forms produced rather nebulous copies of them.  The features and driving motivations of these proto-spirits were distorted, as if seen through a funhouse mirror.  Over time, single-celled organisms eventually evolved into more complex multicellular ones and the other universe mirrored this advancement.  Though its versions of them were again distorted.  There was no thinking life in either universe for quite some time, but that changed with the Cambrian Explosion and its effect on the strange universe was profound.  As earthly life already resonated more strongly than anything with it, this is when the first true spirits evolved there.  Its structure also further diversified and reshaped, developing into what would later be recognized as the netherworlds or metaplanes, each seemingly dedicated to a particular theme of life.

This grand retuning of its structure to reflect earthly evolution brought on another change as well – a varying “distance” from our universe.  Now in greater sync with conditions on Earth than ever before, it also began mimicking the cycles of the planet.  The world spun and orbited the sun.  The moon pulled on it and the tides came and went.  The sun pulled on it and it slowly wobbled on its axis.  All cyclical, all endless.  And so its dimensional proximity to Earth began to wax and wane.  A pseudo-plane formed around the Earth as it grew closer and vanished when it drifted away.  It fell into Earth’s rhythms and became part of its dance.  The great barrier still constrained its influence, but it was felt nonetheless by the planet’s life forms.

Over time, more spirits appeared in the metaplanes as more life forms evolved on Earth, but their nature as distorted copies of material life forms began to show the more they lived in and shaped their various planes.  As time went on their forms grew more grotesque and their appetites malevolent.  The strong devoured the weak and the monstrous arthropod spirits won the war for dominance in their planes, which became darker places.  But the Paleozoic eventually came to an end in the greatest extinction the world had ever seen and the Mesozoic came into prominence as the Age of Dinosaurs.  The older planes no longer resonated with the current state of Earth and were pushed deeper into the metaplanes as new planes arose to take their place nearer to Earth.  The older planes were only close to Earth later in the mana cycle, a condition that only worsened as the ages passed and Earth evolved further.

These new planes were soon filled with distorted copies of dinosaurs…but not for long.  The arthropod spirits from the previous age found paths into their planes and devoured them with great relish.  The only new spirits who managed to survive were the new arthropod spirits of the current age, who bred fast enough to avoid extinction.  They eventually carved out their own plane, which evolved into a giant hive and was sufficiently defended and aspected enough to keep the older spirits out.  Later in the age, a smaller group of scyphozoan spirits managed to do much the same thing, aspecting their plane to be inhospitable to any spirits other than themselves.  This did ensure that they were largely left alone, but in their near-total isolation they eventually came to hate all other forms of life.  Other new spirits appeared in the closer planes to Earth over the millennia, but few of them lasted long in the face of two generations of voracious bugs, and occasionally some hateful jellyfish.

But this age, too, would pass as a giant asteroid slammed into the edge of the western continent and three quarters of all life on the planet died from the effects of that impact.  The dinosaurs perished and the biosphere slowly rebuilt itself yet again.  Dense forests and grasses slowly spread far and wide.  Sharks survived the great extinction and grew to dominate the oceans.  Mammals arose and diversified, coming to dominate the land.  Life persevered and continued evolving.

Throughout all of these ages the metaplanes, as always, continued their regular rhythm.  At the peak of every mana cycle when they drifted close enough to Earth, the creatures of the deepest metaplanes looked upon it…and they hungered.  But, try as they might, they could not breach the barrier separating the universes.  And so it was for millions of years until the latter millennia of the Pleistocene when upstart hominids changed the landscape forever.

The More Recent Ages

The Ascent of Man   (4 mya to 65000 BCE)
Among the mammals, a branch of primates slowly evolved larger brains and a bipedal structure.  They began using primitive tools and eventually fire as well.  Grouping together in tribes, they learned cooperation for survival and their societies slowly grew more complex.  As they became more sapient their emotions and beliefs began influencing the metaplanes.  The first human-like spirits appeared but were eventually eaten by the Horrors and the Invae, who the elder arthropod spirits had ultimately evolved into.  They found these new spirits to be the sweetest meats they’d tasted so far and their rage at the great barrier doubled.  Such torture that they could only look but not touch…

The 1st Age      (Apr 8th, 64618 BCE to Aug 17th, 59493 BCE)
The overall magic level drops below zero.  Behavioral Modernity evolves during the Southern Dispersal of the early migration out of Africa.  A combination of environmental changes, genetic drift, and the need for improved pattern-recognition and communication abilities pushes several recessive gene combinations into prominence.  Modern linguistic capabilities are born.

The 2nd Age      (Aug 18th, 59493 BCE to Dec 27th, 54368 BCE)
Magic returns to the world, and this time around modern humans discover that the ability to form complex linguistic constructs and abstractions can also be used to form mental constructs for channeling mana.  With that level of flexibility, they spread out across the world, rising to prominence over those remaining archaic humans.

The 3rd Age      (Dec 28th, 54368 BCE to May 9th, 49242 BCE)
Magic drops below zero again.  Absorbed in wandering and settling, modern humans do not develop much of any civilization this time around.  Though they do start developing some finer microlithic tools.

The 4th Age      (May 10th, 49242 BCE to Sep 17th, 44117 BCE)
Magic returns once again.  Competing against each other along with the remaining archaic humans, modern human magicians seek deeper magical secrets, eventually discovering both initiation and the metaplanes.  Unfortunately, accessing the metaplanes breaches the great Precambrian astral barrier that had protected Earth for eons, allowing the creatures of the metaplanes access to the planet at long last.  Fortunately for humanity, this development comes too late in the mana cycle for any spirits from the deep metaplanes to actually do so.  However, with the great barrier gone the influence of the metaplanes upon Earth was now unconstrained and the first magical animals, plants, and rocks began appearing.

The 5th Age      (Sep 18th, 44117 BCE to Jan 28th, 38991)
The overall magic level drops below zero.  The civilization of modern humans reverts to reliance on trivial personal magics and links with those few metaplanar power sites which have been directly linked to the stable energies of the metaplanes.  Technology remains primitive.

The 6th Age      (Jan 29th, 38991 BCE to Jun 9th, 33866 BCE)
Magic rises to useful levels once again.  Used to working with only a trickle of magic, modern human magicians exploit this new resource with great enthusiasm.  Magical settlements and constructs arise, in a period that will enter later mythologies as a golden age – a comfortable hunter-gatherer paradise augmented with easy magic.  But the good times draw to a premature end with…

The First Scourge   (36732 BCE to 36126 BCE)
The magic level becomes high enough for the Invae (later known as Insect Spirits) – and, roughly a hundred years later, the true Horrors – to exploit the disruption of the great Precambrian astral barrier and manifest themselves on Earth, free to sate their hunger for earthly life at long last.  Early attempts at protection against the Invae result in the creation of several types of magical guard-beasts, but none of these experiments are truly effective against the Horrors.  As the most intelligent species, modern humans survive in scattered groups and in a few heavily-protected areas; those remaining archaic humans do not.  Civilization will partially rebuild afterwards, but – in the waning years of the age of magic – does not reach its original heights again.  Overall, the Scourge lasts for over 600 years, although the first and last hundred are mostly restricted to being harassed by the Invae.  In the modern era, much of the fallout of this apocalypse this would be noted under the Late Pleistocene Extinctions (as would the subsequent Scourge periods).

The 7th Age      (Jun 10th, 33866 BCE to Oct 18th, 28741 BCE)
Magic falls once again, save for the megalithic power sites set up during the waning days of the age of magic.  Humans finish repopulating the globe, but continue to rely on what little magic is still possible rather than technological innovations for the most part.

The 8th Age      (Oct 19th, 28741 BCE to Feb 28th, 23615 BCE)
Magic returns, and another magical civilization rises, weaving homes from trees, air, and magic, storing knowledge in chunks of crystal, and bringing bounty to the earth.  Sadly, the feral descendants of the ancient guard-beasts join the other dangers of the awakened world to make things more difficult than they used to be.  With the rise of the Horrors, a new solution is attempted.  The most powerful mages of the world reach back into the depths of the memory of the earth to call forth the forms of the most terrible warrior-beasts that have ever lived (now known as dinosaurs), weave those forms from magic, will, imagination (and not a little creative license), and then transmigrate their souls into them.  The first Great Dragons rise to war with the Horrors.  Unfortunately, even they are no match for the Horrors, although they do allow the survival of considerably greater numbers of humans.

The 9th Age      (Mar 1st, 23615 BCE to Jul 11th, 18490 BCE)
The magic level drops to zero again, forcing the surviving dragons into hibernation.  Humans are tolerably well prepared for the low-magic period this time, once again using various methods of keeping limited amounts of magic working.  In addition, the notion of alternative methods of doing things has taken firm root.  Basic “technologies,” such as ceramics and similar simple developments, make life a little easier.

The 10th Age      (Jul 12th, 18490 BCE to Nov 19th, 13365 BCE)
Magic – and the dragons – return to the world.  As the Scourge approaches, the wiser dragons and human magicians attempt other routes – reawakening some of the ancient magical channels which once granted inherent abilities to various members of the archaic hominid lines.  Among other variants, orks, trolls, elves, dwarves, obsidimen, windlings, and their “Physical Adept” variants are created.  The Adepts, at least, are moderately successful against the Horrors.  Various techniques for building refuges and fortifications are, however, at least as useful.  Civilization is badly damaged and there are numerous casualties, but it could have been much worse.  Unfortunately, among those losses are the remaining elder Great Dragons to the Great Hunter, who managed to capture and imprison them in astral cocoons to be corrupted; with them goes the knowledge of the true origin of dragons.  Towards the end of the age, some of the remaining dragons sire dragon-kin and t’skrang on various humans and variant humans.  A very few elven crossbreeds seem to inherit undistorted forms and natural draconic near-immortality; these are the first “immortal elves.”

The 11th Age      (Nov 20th, 13365 BCE to Mar 31st, 8239 BCE)
Magic again drops below the zero point.  The surviving dragons and their progeny enter hibernation.  Without magic to power their innate channels and enhancements, metahuman children begin to be born as normal humans.  The lack of widespread magic spurs human innovation and the Neolithic Revolution is born.  Hunter-gatherer tribes transition to lives of agriculture and settlement, domesticating both plants and animals.  Simple tools and weapons of wood and stone, hide armor, and better pottery are developed.  But even with these achievements their primitive technology is no match for the magic which can be kept working at the metaplanar power sites, and so is never seriously developed.

The 12th Age      (Apr 1st, 8239 BCE to Aug 10th, 3114 BCE)
Magic once again reaches usable levels.  The dragons reawaken – but with the last of the original dragons long gone, the younger lesser dragons soon begin to chafe under the domination of their elders.  This results in the Dragonwars – a conflict between the elder dragons and their younger progeny (with the dragon-kin mostly siding with the younger dragons).  This isn’t good for anyone, and eats up a good deal of the time and resources that might have been used to prepare against the return of the Horrors.  Several of the surviving immortal elves, however, create the “Books of Harrow” and use them as the basis to exploit the impending arrival of the Horrors for their own ends.  They collect vast amounts of orichalcum, turn Thera/Atlantis into a magical fortress, exaggerate the dangers of the Scourge, and arrange for everyone else to seal themselves away in magical fortresses to be opened only when the magic level drops below the point that would force the Horrors back into the metaplanes.  They then use their orichalcum reserves to construct a magical amplifier designed to stabilize magic on a global scale, allowing them to emerge and take over enormous territories while everyone else is still in hiding.  Thanks to this meddling, some minor Horrors are able to remain in residence until the end of the age when the Scourge proper normally would only have lasted from approximately 5980 – 5374 BCE.  The dragons decide that the immortal elves are a bigger pain than they’re worth and forbid the siring of further dragon-kin.

The 13th Age      (Aug 11th, 3114 BCE to Dec 20th, 2012 CE)
The magic level hits zero again – and the Theran planetary magical amplifier overloads and explodes.  The island of Thera is completely destroyed, leaving behind nothing but a scar on the ocean floor.  Across the world, the magic level drops from a level high enough to sustain an advanced magical civilization to zero within hours.  Without time to prepare, without metaplanar power sites primed, and without decades of adaption to using tiny personal magics, all magic save that of master magicians (who still have some minor tricks to call upon) abruptly ceases to work.  Unprepared magical beings, including some foolish young dragons, and most of the obsidimen and t’skrang, die painfully.  The windlings – unable to remain sentient at their brain size without magic – are deprived of the time needed to gradually grow larger as magic fades, and become near-extinct save for a few recessive genes.  Millennia later, they would call this global disaster the Neolithic Decline.

On the island of Crete, the shell-shocked survivors of what was largely considered Thera’s breadbasket are suddenly bereft of magic and their overlords in a single afternoon.  The “B Team” magicians living on the island who still have some minor magics at their disposal organize an exodus to an island 70 miles to the north and name it Thera, attempting to carry on the traditions of their lost empire.  Unfortunately, their descendants are destroyed in the Minoan Eruption 15 centuries later.

In the rest of the world, civilization undergoes an unparalleled collapse with the sudden absence of the magic it depended on.  However, necessity is again the mother of invention in the absence of widespread magic and this spurs technological innovation in earnest.  Over the next few millennia, history takes a familiar course – culminating in the modern era of human civilization.

The 14th Age      (Dec 21st, 2012 CE to May 2nd, 7138 CE)
The Awakening and the start of the “Sixth World” according to the Mesoamerican Calendar.

The 15th Age      (May 3rd, 7138 CE to Sep 11th, 12263 CE)
The next non-magical age.

The 16th Age      (Sep 12th, 12263 CE to Jan 20th, 17389 CE)
The next magical age.  (See the Equinox RPG for further details on an unofficial future age for the Earthdawn/Shadowrun universe.)

An Overview of the Eons

Hadean Eon      (4,567 to 4,031 million years ago)
This eon started with the planet’s formation from debris around the solar protoplanetary disk.  There’s no life and it’s extremely hot with frequent volcanic activity and hellish-looking environments (hence the eon’s name, which comes from Hades).  The atmosphere is nebular and there are early oceans.  The Moon is formed around this time due to a protoplanet’s collision with Earth.

Our universe becomes entangled with another, much stranger universe during the creation of our solar system.  As planets form here, planes of existence form there.  A dimensional wall separating the two also forms around this time.

Archean Eon      (4,031 to 2,500 million years ago)
Single-celled organisms emerge at the very beginning of this eon, in a process known as abiogenesis.  The atmosphere is composed of volcanic and greenhouse gases.  The Earth at this time was mostly a water world.  There was a continental crust, but much of it was under an ocean far deeper than today’s oceans.  Photosynthetic organisms eventually appear and began enriching the atmosphere with oxygen.

The simple organisms on Earth are mirrored in the evolution of similar organisms in the strange universe, but these are oddly distorted copies of their earthly cousins thanks to the dimensional wall separating them.

Proterozoic Eon   (2,500 to 538.8 million years ago)
This is the longest eon of the Earth’s geologic time scale, and it covers the time from the appearance of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere to just before the proliferation of complex life (such as trilobites or corals).  More complex multicellular organisms evolve, along with bacteria that begin producing oxygen, shaping the third and current of Earth’s atmospheres.  Plants, later animals, and possibly earlier forms of fungi form around this time.

The distorted mirrored evolution of earthly life forms continues in the strange universe.

Phanerozoic Eon   (538.8 million years ago to Present)
The Cambrian Explosion was a sudden mass appearance of complex life forms.  The supercontinent Pangaea forms and then eventually dissolves into the current continents.  Life gradually expands from the oceans onto land and familiar forms of plants, animals and fungi begin appearing, hence the eon’s name, which means “visible life.”  Several mass extinctions occur, among which birds, the descendants of non-avian dinosaurs, and more recently mammals emerge.  Modern animals – including humans – evolve in the most recent phases of this eon.

The explosion of much more complex life on Earth causes the evolution of the first true spirits in the strange universe, and also causes it to reshape into a more-recognizable set of metaplanes.  Arthropod spirits evolve into the Horrors and Invae, and some later appearing scyphozoan spirits become the Shedim.  Eventually, humans evolve on Earth and shatter the great barrier, ushering in a cycle of invasions from the deep metaplanes at the height of every mana cycle.


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