Discovery of oldest fossils means life on Earth began 220m years earlier

The world’s oldest fossils have been found in Greenland, suggesting life may have emerged on Earth earlier than first thought. The small conical structures, found on an exposed piece of rock in the sea, have now been shown to be remains of a living organism. The tiny shapes were created by prehistoric bacteria and preserved in sedimentary rock for 3.7 billion years. They are 220 million years older than the previous oldest known evidence for life.

This discovery represents a new benchmark for the oldest preserved evidence of life on Earth

Researcher Prof Martin Julian Van Kranendonk, a geology expert at the University of New South Wales

The newly discovered structures, known as stromatolites, were formed by colonies of microbes living in the ancient ocean. They were formed on a rocky outcrop which only recently emerged from the ice in Isua, near Nuuk, on the south-west coast of Greenland. They prove that life emerged fairly shortly – in geological terms – after the Earth was formed some 4.5 billion years ago, said lead researcher Allen Nutman of the University of Wollongong. And, he added, they offered signs that very basic life might have existed on Mars, which had similar oceans at one time.

If we have got life at 3,700 million (3.7 bn) years on Earth, did it exist on other planets - because Mars, for example, 3,700 million years ago was wet

Researcher Clark Friend