World’s Oldest Fossils Found in Greenland

By NICHOLAS WADESeptember 1, 2016


Allen Nutman


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.


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.


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.”


Yuri Amelin


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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