Earlier this year, scientists stumbled upon a specimen they claim to be the oldest fossil ever discovered – dating back at least 3.77 billion years. In a recent study, researchers Mattew S. Dodd, Dr. Dominic Papineau, and their colleagues at the University College London examined rocks from a formation in Canada called Nuvvuagittuq.
Estimates state that the rocks are 3.77 billion to 4.22 billion years old, a time point only about 340 million years after the Earth was formed. These ancient rocks have little squiggles on them called filaments, which is where the bacteria would lay. The study’s result elicited controversy across the geology community. If true, these findings could help answer the question of how long the Earth has sustained life.
In August 2016, geologist Dr. Martin J. Van Kranendonk and his colleagues at University of New South Wales discovered fossils in Greenland dating back 3.7 billion years. Van Kranendonk called the patterns in the rocks “dubiofossils,” because of their unclear origins.
Dr. Frances Westall, the director of research at the CNRS-Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire in Orléans France, is also unconvinced the mysterious patterns are fossils. She argued that the
(or fine thin lines) in the Nuvvuagittuq rocks are too big to be bacteria. Because there was less oxygen in the atmosphere when the earth formed, Dr. Westall believes that the bacteria would have been smaller.
Skeptics also argue that the water would have been too hot to sustain bacterial life. Not long after these rocks were made, the ocean heated up to extremely high temperatures. Conditions under which many experts believe were too harsh for bacteria to survive.
The University College scientists made a life-changing discovery that has been met with skepticism from many. As Dr. Wacey, an origins of life researcher at the University of Western Australia put it, “It may be years before a consensus is reached, but this is how science progresses.”
The New York Times