The Carboniferous is a Geologic Period that extends from about 280 to 340 million Years before the present. As with most older geologic periods, the rock beds that define the start and end are well identified, but the exact dates of the start and end of the period are uncertain by 5-10 million years. The Carboniferous is named for the extensive coal beds from that age in England and Western Europe. The Carboniferous follows the Devonian Period and precedes the Permian Period. In North America the first third of the Carboniferous is called the Mississippian Period and the remainder is called the Pennsylvanian.
The Carboniferous is usually broken into Lower and Upper subdivisions. The Faunal stages from youngest to oldest are:
Noginskian/Virgilian (Gzelian) Klazminskian (Kasimovian) Dorogomilovksian/Virgilian (Kasimovian) Chamovnicheskian/Cantabrian/Missourian (Kasimovian) Krevyakinskian/Cantabrian/Missourian (Kasimovian) Myachkovskian/Bolsovian/Desmoinesian (Moscovian) Podolskian/Desmoinesian (Moscovian) Kashirskian/Atokan (Moscovian) Vereiskian/Bolsovian/Atokan (Moscovian) Melekesskian/Duckmantian (Bashkirian/Morrowan) Cheremshanskian/Langsettian (Bashkirian/Morrowan) Yeadonian (Bashkirian/Morrowan) Marsdenian (Bashkirian/Morrowan) Kinderscoutian (Bashkirian/Morrowan) Alportian (Serpukhovian) Chokierian/Chesterian/Elvirian (Serpukhovian) Arnsbergian/Elvirian (Serpukhovian) Pendleian (Serpukhovian) Brigantian/St Genevieve/Gasperian/Chesterian (Visean) Asbian/Meramecian (Visean) Holkerian/Salem (Visean) Arundian/Warsaw/Meramecian (Visean) Chadian/Keokuk/Osagean/Osage (Visean) Ivorian/Osagean/Osage (Tournaisian) Hastarian/Kinderhookian/Chautauquan/Chouteau (Tournaisian)
Carboniferous rocks in Europe and Eastern North America largely consist of a repeated sequence of limestone, sandstone, shale and coal beds. In North America, the Early Carboniferous is largely marine limestone which accounts for the division of the Carboniferous into two periods by North American workers. The Carboniferous coal beds provided much of the power for the Industrial Revolution and are still of great economic importance.
Sea levels in the Carboniferous were lower than in the Devonian. Extensive lowland swamps and forests in North America and Europe became the Carboniferous coal beds. In Eastern North America, marine beds are more common in the older part of the period than the later part and are almost entirely absent by the late Carboniferous. More diverse geology existed elsewhere of course. Marine life is especially rich in crinoids and other echinoderms. Brachiopods were abundant. Trilobites became quite uncommon. On land, large and diverse plant populations existed. Land vertebrates included large amphibians.
The southern continents remained tied together into the Supercontinent Gondwana which collided with North America-Europe (Laurussia) along the present line of Eastern North America. In the same time frame, much of present Eastern Eurasia welded itself to Europe along the line of the Ural mountains. Most of the Mesozoic supercontinent of Pangea was now assembled although pieces of present East Asia still remained detached.