The evolutionary history of penguins is well-researched and represents a showcase of evolutionary biogeography; though as penguin bones of any one species vary much in size and few good specimens are known, the alpha taxonomy of many prehistoric forms still leaves much to be desired. Some seminal articles about penguin prehistory have been published since 2005, the evolution of the living genera can be considered resolved by now.
The basal penguins lived around the time of the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event somewhere in the general area of (southern) New Zealand and Byrd Land, Antarctica. Due to plate tectonics, these areas were at that time less than 1,500 kilometers (932 mi) apart rather than the 4,000 kilometers (2,485 mi) of today. The most recent common ancestor of penguins and their sister clade can be roughly dated to the Campanian–Maastrichtian boundary, around 70–68 mya. What can be said as certainly as possible in the absence of direct (i.e., fossil) evidence is that by the end of the Cretaceous, the penguin lineage must have been evolutionarily well distinct, though much less so morphologically; it is fairly likely that they were not yet entirely flightless at that time, as flightless birds have generally low resilience to the breakdown of trophic webs that follows the initial phase of mass extinctions because of their below-average dispersal capabilities (see also Flightless Cormorant).