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Earth Sciences & Geography - Earth System Sciences | Early Life on Earth - A Practical Guide

Early Life on Earth

A Practical Guide

Series: Topics in Geobiology, Vol. 31

Wacey, David

2009, X, 274 p.

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  • Details the remarkable number of highly interesting candidate structures in the quest to decode the earliest evidence for life on Earth
  • Covers the Victorian Eozoon controversy, the ongoing stromatolite debate, and the recent Apex microfossil debate
  • Features a large number of geochemical high resolution illustrations, including thin section photomicrographs, field outcrop photographs and scanning electron microscope images as well as detailed descriptions and balanced interpretations of the structures so that the reader can compare and contrast
  • Serves as an ideal reference guide and practical pictorial textbook for students and researchers into early life

When did life first appear on Earth and what form did it take? The answer to this intriguing and fundamentally important question lies somewhere within the early Archean rock record. The young Earth was, however, a very different place to that we know today and numerous pitfalls await our interpretation of these most ancient rocks.

The first half of this practical guide equips the reader with the background knowledge to successfully evaluate new potentially biological finds from the Archean rock record. Successive steps are covered, from locating promising samples in the field, through standard petrography and evaluation of antiquity and biogenicity criteria, to the latest state of the art geochemical techniques. The second half of the guide uniquely brings together all the materials that have been claimed to comprise the earliest fossil record into an easily accessible, fully illustrated format.

This will be a handbook that every Archean geologist, palaeobiologist and astrobiologist will wish to have in their backpack or on their lab-bench.

Content Level » Research

Keywords » Archean - Biosignatures - Early Life - Microfossils - carbon - earth - tree

Related subjects » Astrobiology - Biochemistry & Biophysics - Earth System Sciences - Geochemistry - Geology

Table of contents 

Acknowledgments Setting the scene, an introduction by Martin Brasier Milestones in the search for early life on Earth The Eozoon debate and the ‘Foraminosphere’ The Cyanosphere, phase 1 The Cyanosphere, phase 2 Implications Recommended reading PART A: Investigating life in early Archean rocks 1. What can we expect to find in the earliest rock record? Introduction 1.1. Body fossils 1.2. Trace fossils 1.3. Chemical fossils 2. The difficulties of decoding early life Introduction 2.1. Non-biological artefacts 2.2. Post-depositional contamination 2.3. The pros and cons of the ‘Principle of Uniformity’ 2.4. A benchmark for microfossils and stromatolites 3. Establishing the criteria for early life on Earth Introduction 3.1. Antiquity criteria 3.1.1. General antiquity criteria 3.1.2. Additional antiquity criteria specific to microfossils 3.1.3. Additional antiquity criteria specific to trace fossils 3.2. Biogenicity criteria 3.2.1. General biogenicity criteria 3.2.2. Additional biogenicity criteria specific to microfossils 3.2.3. Additional biogenicity criteria specific to trace fossils 3.3. The problem of stromatolites 4. Fulfilling the criteria for early life on Earth Introduction 4.1. Where to look? – Archean cratons 4.1.1. Geology of the Pilbara craton 4.1.2. Geology of the Barberton greenstone belt, Kaapvaal craton 4.1.3. Geology of southwest Greenland 4.2. Typical rocks found in the early Archean that could host life 4.2.1. Chert 4.2.2. Pillow basalt 4.2.3. Sandstone 4.2.4. Hydrothermal deposits 5. Techniques for investigating early life on Earth Introduction 5.1. Geological mapping 5.2. Radiometric dating 5.3. Optical microscopy 5.4. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) 5.5. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) 5.6. Secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS and NanoSIMS) 5.7. Laser-Raman micro-spectroscopy 5.8. Near edge x-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy (NEXAFS) and electron energy loss spectrometry (EELS) 5.9. Synchrotron x-ray tomography 5.10. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) 5.11. Molecular fossils 5.12. Carbon isotopes 5.13. Sulphur isotopes 5.14. Other isotopic systems Summary of techniques Part B: An atlas of claims for early Archean life Introduction 1. >3700 Ma, Isua Supracrustal Belt and Akilia Island, S.W. Greenland 2. ~3490 Ma, Dresser Formation, East Pilbara, Western Australia Summary of claims for early life from this Formation 3. ~3470 Ma, Mount Ada Basalt, East Pilbara, Western Australia 4. ~3460 Ma, Apex Basalt, East Pilbara, Western Australia 5. ~3450 Ma, Hoogenoeg Formation, Barberton, South Africa 6. ~3450 Ma, Panorama Formation, East Pilbara, Western Australia 7. ~3400 Ma, Strelley Pool Formation, East Pilbara, Western Australia Summary of claims of early life from this Formation 8. ~3416-3334 Ma, Kromberg Formation, Barberton, South Africa 9. ~3350 Ma, Euro Basalt, East Pilbara, Western Australia 10. ~3250 Ma, Fig Tree Group, Barberton, South Africa 11. ~3240 Ma, Kangaroo Caves Fm., East Pilbara, Western Australia 12. ~3200 Ma, Moodies Group, Barberton, South Africa 13. ~3200 Ma, Dixon Island Formation, West Pilbara, Western Australia 14. ~3000 Ma, Cleaverville Formation, West Pilbara, Western Australia 15. ~3000 Ma, Farrel Quartzite, East Pilbara, Western Australia 16. The Imposters. Younger biolog

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