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Australian Fossils Could Be the Oldest Evidence of Life on Earth

May 11, 2017 07:15 AM EDT

Experts believe that some ancient rocks discovered in Western Australia could be the oldest evidence of life on Earth. 

The rocks are believed to be about 3.48 billion years old. They were discovered in the Dresser Formation region in Pilbara, Australia. The area used to be a caldera or a volcanic crater and was supposed to be on an island teeming with hot springs and ponds. This means that the region was also home to microbial life.

Tara Djokic, a doctoral candidate from the University of New South Wales in Australis, led the study. They discovered that evidence of microbial life was embedded in the rocks around what could have been the hot springs as well as in the deposits. If proven true, these could be the oldest evidence of life.

"Our exciting findings don't just extend back the record of life living in hot springs by 3 billion years, they indicate that life was inhabiting the land much earlier than previously thought, by up to about 580 million years," Tara Djokic said in a statement.

It was previously thought that microbial life could have sprung from hydrothermal vents from the ocean floor. This new study may shift history if proven that early life started near hot springs near volcanic craters or calderas.

Djokic believes that the 8.6-mile-long (14 kilometers) of rocks in the Dresser Formation carry the oldest evidence of life on Earth. The formation contains reddish volcanic rocks believed to come from 3.48 billion years ago. They contain fossilized stromatolites.

In addition, the study discovered new formations of geyserite rock that only exist near hot springs. Also, there were ancient bubbles discovered. They believe the bubbles may help them identify if there were evidence of life in it. This is because the preservation of bubbles opened a lot of possibilities.

"This is a very detailed paper showing compelling evidence for microbially formed rock structures in some of the oldest hydrothermal precipitate [deposits]," Dominic Papineau, an Earth scientist at the University College London who is not part of the team, said in a statement.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications. If the new study is correct, it will confirm that the earliest evidence of life on Earth should be pushed back about 3 billion years.

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