The continental crust is the archive of the geological history of the Earth. Only 7% of the crust is older than 2.5 Ga, and yet significantly more crust was generated before 2.5 Ga than subsequently. Zircons offer robust records of the magmatic and crust-forming events preserved in the continental crust. They yield marked peaks of ages of crystallization and of crust formation. The latter might reflect periods of high rates of crust generation, and as such be due to magmatism associated with deep-seated mantle plumes. Alternatively the peaks are artefacts of preservation, they mark the times of supercontinent formation, and magmas generated in some tectonic settings may be preferentially preserved. There is increasing evidence that depletion of the upper mantle was in response to early planetary differentiation events. Arguments in favour of large volumes of continental crust before the end of the Archaean, and the thickness of felsic and mafic crust, therefore rely on thermal models for the progressively cooling Earth. They are consistent with recent estimates that the rates of crust generation and destruction along modern subduction zones are strikingly similar. The implication is that the present volume of continental crust was established 2–3 Ga ago.