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Oldest Fossils Prove that Life Thrived on Young Earth

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Australian researchers have uncovered the world’s oldest fossils in a remote area of Greenland, capturing the earliest history of the planet and demonstrating that life on Earth emerged rapidly in the planet’s early years.

Led by Prof Allen Nutman of The University of Wollongong, the team discovered 3.7-billion-year-old stromatolite fossils in the world’s oldest sedimentary rocks in the Isua Greenstone Belt along the edge of Greenland’s icecap.

Nutman said that the Isua stromatolite fossils were 220 million years older than the world’s previous oldest stromatolite fossils in Western Australia. This therefore pushes the fossil record back to just after the start of the Earth’s geological record, and points to evidence of life on Earth very early in its history.

The Isua stromatolites, which were exposed by the recent melting of a perennial snow patch, were laid down in shallow sea, so they provide the first evidence of an environment in which early life thrived.

Stromatolite fossils are mounds of carbonate constructed by communities of microbes. “The significance of stromatolites is that not only do they provide obvious evidence of ancient life that is visible with the naked eye, but that they are complex eco­systems,” Nutman said. “This indicates that as long as 3.7 billion years ago microbial life was already diverse.”

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The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.