A team of international scientists have discovered a fossil in Canada that may be up to 4.28 billion years old. This would make it the oldest record of life on Earth by at least 100 million years.
The findings were reported this week in the journal Nature.
The fossil was found in the Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt, a chunk of ancient ocean floor in Northern Quebec. The researchers looked at sections of rock known as “banded iron formations,” that were likely part of a system of hydrothermal vents—fissures from which heated, mineral-rich water erupted.
The iron formations were made billions of years ago as organisms reacted with dissolved iron in the water. The organisms, which are about one-tenth the width of a human hair, appear as red or white layers in the rock, and resemble structures produced by microbes living around undersea thermal vents today.
“It’s impressive,” said Jonathan O’Neill, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “We now have evidence in rock that I can hold in my hand that we had life already established extremely early on the Earth.”
The discovery of this fossil helps support recent research that Earth was capable of life much earlier than previously thought.
Our solar system is believed to have formed about 4.6 billion years ago. Scientists had previously theorized that early Earth was a lava-spewing, inhospitable world, barraged by asteroids, that could not have supported water or life at the young age of several hundred million years old.
However: “Within the last 15, 20 years, we have more and more evidence that that’s not the case,” said O’Neill. “Very quickly after its formation, the Earth became closer to what it is