Rock & Gem

The Oldest Land Ecosystem on Earth (and Mars?) Revealed


It is 3.2 billion years old, it lies beneath the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains of South

Africa, and it purportedl­y holds the rst evidence of a land-based ecosystem on Earth. Welcome to the

Moodies Group of rock formations. These formations record what some have described as slimy, sun-soaked shallows on land.

Per an article in the journal Science, the Moodies Group may preserve some of “Earth’s rst microbial producers of oxygen” in a land-based ecosystem. Other spots with evidence of fossilized life have been discovered within marine deposits in places like South Africa, Greenland and Australia, but this is the rst conrmed terrestria­l deposit.

Christoph Heubeck (Friedrich Schiller University of Jena) has led the Barberton Archaean Surface Environmen­ts project, which has been drilling and retrieving core samples nearly 660 feet beneath Earth. ese samples seem to reveal ancestral cyanobacte­ria that, later in Earth’s history, would œood our planet with life-sustaining oxygen. e samples and analyses, if conrmed, may also prove helpful as NASA’s Perseveran­ce rover on Mars drills into rocks of similar age on our sister planet. If and when such Martian cores return to Earth, how might they compare?

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