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Archean butterstone

Archean butterstone, Barberton greenstone belt, South Africa

Let there be life! The beginning of it all in the palm of your hand. 

This rock is somewhere between 3.4 billion and 3.2 billion years old years old and comes from the Barberton greenbelt in South Africa. The rocks from this area contain the earliest known fossils on Earth. They are micro fossils, and are not visible without specialised equipment. Where present fossils consist of prokaryotes, often with well preserved cellular structure. This particular rock is a form of carbonaceous chert. If microfossils are present in this sample, it is likely to be in the black bands.

Greenstone belts are important in their own right and offer clues to the start of plate tectonics. The Barberton belt is on the edges of the Kaapvaal craton. Most of the Earth's crust probably formed during the archean, but has been recycled and subducted many times over the last few billion years. There are very few places where the ancient crust still remains. These places are called cratons. The Kaapvaal craton may once have been part of a larger continent which also included the Pilbara in West Australia. Interestingly, the Pilbara is also teeming with evidence of early life.  

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