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These Rocks May Hold Oldest Evidence of Life on Earth

Researchers say Greenland stromatolites are 3.7B years old
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 31, 2016 3:52 PM CDT

(Newser) – Researchers claim to have discovered evidence of life on Earth more than 200 million years before the oldest known fossils, the BBC reports. A layer of permanent snow melted away last spring on Greenland's Isua supracrustal belt, revealing a series of wavy peaks called stromatolites in the 3.7 billion-year-old rock. Researchers say those peaks were created by bacterial colonies. Previously, the oldest evidence of life was 3.48 billion-year-old stromatolites in Australia. Researchers published their findings in Nature. “This helps us think about how life developed on Earth, how fast that process was," professor Martin van Kranendonk says. "It pushes everything back a little further, narrows the window between when we know nothing, and when we begin to know something.”

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Their discovery could also help us know something about life on other planets, Science reports. It could guide other scientists on where and how to look for signs of ancient life on Mars and elsewhere. But the scientific community at large is far from convinced by the Greenland stromatolites. According to the Guardian, rocks as old as those in Greenland have typically been exposed to extreme heat and pressure, destroying any possible evidence of life, leading some experts to argue the waves and peaks seen by researchers are the result of physical forces, not organic ones. The discovery is nothing more than "highly deformed rocks," one expert tells the BBC. (Meet "Earth's first animal.")

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