As part of a continuing research program on the understanding of geological time (deep time) across society, a total of 51 in-service teachers of 7- to 11-year-old children was studied in relation to their orientations toward geoscience phenomena in general and deep time in particular. The first purpose of the research was to identify the nature of idiosyncratic conceptions of deep time: a cognitive deep time framework of pivotal geo-events. The second was to propose a curricular Deep Time Framework that may form the basis for constructivist approaches to in-service and pre-service teacher training which places deep time center stage. Three research questions were posed, addressing: (1) perceptions of geoscience phenomena and teachers' actual encounters with these in the classroom; (2) conceptions of deep time; and (3) approaches to teaching two curriculum areas (history and geology) which involve the interpretation of material evidence to reconstruct the past. Results enable the selection of 20 geoscience phenomena to be located in relation to teachers' interests and classroom encounters, those of high interest and high encounters being proposed as pivotal areas for further attention in teacher training. Results also reveal that in-service teachers conceive events in the geological past (geo-events) as having occurred in three distinct clusters: extremely ancient; moderately ancient; and less ancient. Within each category there is a strong lack of consensus on time-of-occurrence. Results suggest that primary teachers exhibit greater imagination in their teaching of history compared with geology and that aspects of deep time and past environments are not perceived as being of any great significance in the interpretation of geological specimens. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 38: 191–221, 2001