格陵兰岛发现世界最古老的化石

2016-09-01

World’s Oldest Fossils Found in Greenland

By NICHOLAS WADESeptember 1, 2016

NICHOLAS WADE2016年9月1日

Allen Nutman

在格陵兰岛伊苏阿地区发现的叠层岩可能会成为地球上最古老的化石生命证据。

Geologists have discovered in Greenland evidence for ancient life in rocks that are 3.7 billion years old. The find, if confirmed, would make these fossils the oldest on Earth and may change scientific understanding of the origins of life.

在格陵兰岛有37亿年历史的岩石中,地质学家发现了远古生命的迹象。若得到证实,它们可能成为地球上最古老的化石,也许还会改变对生命起源的科学理解。

Experts are likely to debate whether the structures described in the new report were formed biologically or through natural processes. If biological, the great age of the fossils complicates the task of reconstructing the evolution of life from the chemicals naturally present on the early Earth. It leaves comparatively little time for evolution to have occurred and puts the process close to a time when Earth was being bombarded by destructive asteroids.

专家很可能会就新论文中所描述的结构展开讨论:它们是由生物形成的,还是通过自然过程形成的?如果是生物形成的,这些化石的年龄会让一项任务变得复杂起来,即再现地球早期自然出现的化学物质演化成生命的过程。按照这项发现,这个进化过程的时间相对较少,且限定在地球遭到毁坏性的小行星撞击时前后。

The fossils were discovered four years ago but not publicized while the geologists, a team led by Allen P. Nutman of the University of Wollongong in Australia, checked out their find.

这些化石是四年前发现的,但在澳大利亚伍伦贡大学(University of Wollongong)的艾兰·P·纳特曼(Allen P. Nutman)带领的一队地质学家研究自己的发现期间,它们没被报道出来。

“Of course one felt very excited, but we’re not the rushing types and we took our time,” Nutman said. “We kept it secret because we wanted to present it in the most robust way we could manage.”

“我们当然感到非常兴奋,不过我们不是那种急于求成的人,而是慢慢来,”纳特曼说。“保密是因为我们想以尽可能稳妥的方式呈现这个结果。”

Yuri Amelin

艾兰·纳特曼和薇姬·贝内特展示一块有37亿年历史的化石样本。

The rock layer forming the outcrop, known to geologists as the Isua supracrustal belt, lies on the southwest coast of Greenland and is some 3.9 billion to 3.7 billion years old.

形成露头的岩层,即地质学家所说的伊苏阿上地壳带,位于格陵兰岛的西南海岸,年龄大约在37亿到39亿年之间。

Researchers earlier had claimed that Isua rocks had a chemical composition indicative of life, but critics said this mix of chemicals could have arisen through natural processes.

研究人员早前称伊苏阿岩层的化学组成表明那里出现了生命,但批评人士认为,这种化学物质的混合可能是在自然过程中产生的。

The new fossils, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, are the first visible structures found in the Isua rocks. They are thought to be stromatolites, layers of sediment packed together by microbial communities living in shallow water.

《自然》杂志(Nature)周三提到的这些新化石,是在伊苏阿岩层中发现的首批看得见的结构。它们被认为是叠层岩,即一层又一层的沉积物被生活在浅水中的微生物群落挤压在一起形成的结构。

They are some 220 million years more ancient than the oldest previously known fossils, also stromatolites.

它们比之前已知的最古老的化石——也是叠层岩——还早了大约2.2亿年。

The new report “provides the oldest direct evidence of microbial life,” said Gerald Joyce, an expert on the origin of life at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.

在加利福尼亚州拉荷亚的斯克里普斯研究所(Scripps Research Institute)研究生命起源的专家杰拉尔德·乔伊斯(Gerald Joyce)表示,新论文“为微生物生命提供了最古老的直接证据”。

Because of the importance of the claim made by Nutman and his colleagues, considerable discussion can be expected before their interpretation of the structures as evidence of life is generally accepted.

由于纳特曼及其同事宣布的发现颇为重要,在公众接受他们把相关结构解读成生命的证据这一做法之前,预计会出现大量的讨论。

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