Forming Fossils

Beginnings of Life

What is the oldest-known life form that existed on land?

So far, there is no definitive agreement about the oldest-known land life to have emerged on Earth, but there have been some intriguing discoveries. For example, in 1994 scientists in Arizona discovered fossilized tubular microorganisms dating back 1.2 billion years. In 2000, another team of scientists at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute uncovered an even older possibility: fossilized remnants of microbial mats (composed primarily of cyanobacteria) that developed on land between 2.7 billion and 2.6 billion years ago in the eastern Transvaal district of South Africa. Around 2002, yet another scientist uncovered what he thought may have been the earliest life on land in the form of a biocrust—a thin film of bacteria that covered stretches of sand in Scotland’s Torridon region. It is thought that the ripples in certain rocks actually represent billion-year-old biosignatures left behind by the first organisms to inhabit the land.


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