Early Life Recorded in Archean Pillow Lavas

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Science  23 Apr 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5670, pp. 578-581
DOI: 10.1126/science.1095858

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Pillow lava rims from the Mesoarchean Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa contain micrometer-scale mineralized tubes that provide evidence of submarine microbial activity during the early history of Earth. The tubes formed during microbial etching of glass along fractures, as seen in pillow lavas from recent oceanic crust. The margins of the tubes contain organic carbon, and many of the pillow rims exhibit isotopically light bulk-rock carbonate δ13C values, supporting their biogenic origin. Overlapping metamorphic and magmatic dates from the pillow lavas suggest that microbial life colonized these subaqueous volcanic rocks soon after their eruption almost 3.5 billion years ago.

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