Oldest evidence of life found in 3.95-billion-year-old rocks

The oldest evidence of life on Earth ever discovered may lie within rocks that are 3.95 billion years old, a new study finds.

The new finding represents the earliest sign of life yet on Earth by 200 million years or more, the researchers said.

Evidence of life early in Earth’s history remains sparse because few well-preserved rocks have survived from the Eoarchean era, which spanned from about 4 billion to 3.6 billion years ago. During that time, Earth’s primitive atmosphere and oceans — as well as the oldest signs of life — first emerged.

Until now, the earliest hints of life in the 4.5-billion-year history of Earth were inside a 3.7-billion-year-old rock from Greenland revealed in 2016. Prior work, from 1996, also claimed to have found signs of life in 3.8-billion-year-old rocks from Greenland’s Akilia Island, although those findings remain hotly debated. [In Images: The Oldest Fossils on Earth]

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