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Was there life on Earth over two billion years ago?

Not just for about one billion years? That’s the claim made by University of Oregon researchers, who have identified some elements of a very old stratum as fossils. Details:

- A new study, led by geologist Gregory J. Retallack of the University of Oregon, now has presented evidence for life on land that is four times as old — at 2.2 billion years ago and almost half way back to the inception of the planet.

- “They certainly were not plants or animals, but something rather more simple,” said Retallack, professor of geological sciences and co-director of paleontological collections at the UO’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The fossils, he added, most resemble modern soil organisms called Geosiphon, a fungus with a central cavity filled with symbiotic cyanobacteria.

“There is independent evidence for cyanobacteria, but not fungi, of the same geological age, and these new fossils set a new and earlier benchmark for the greening of the land,” he said. “This gains added significance because fossil soils hosting the fossils have long been taken as evidence for a marked rise in the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere at about 2.4 billion to 2.2 billion years ago, widely called the Great Oxidation Event.”

The Great Oxidation Event pushed oxygen to 5% of the atmosphere, which might be enough for simple life forms (currently oxygen comprises 21% of the atmosphere).

This is most interesting news if it holds up. Remember, the earlier that life forms are found to exist, the bigger the hurdle for purely naturalistic claims about its origin, unless the researcher is arguing that life came from somewhere else in the galaxy. But then he bears the burden of providing evidence for that.

But caution: Researchers have sometimes been fooled because accidental agglomerations of chemicals can look like the fossils of simple life forms. Call it, if you like, the rat on Mars problem.

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5 Responses to Was there life on Earth over two billion years ago?

  1. Retallack has also advanced a particularly blasphemous theory that Ediacaran biota lived on dry land.

  2. He’s welcome to demonstrate it. A key question is whether he is on to something here.

  3. News, many times atheists have attacked the Genesis account of creation in the Bible by saying that plant life on the land did not precede the Cambrian explosion of animal life in the seas as the Bible account in Genesis says it does.

    Genesis 1:11-12
    Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation:

    Genesis 1:20
    Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures,”,,,

    Which is why I found Retallack’s previous work on Ediacaran fossils to be very interesting:

    Australian Multicellular Fossils Point to Life On Land, Not at Sea, Geologist Proposes – Dec. 12, 2012
    Excerpt: Ediacaran fossils, he said, represent “an independent evolutionary radiation of life on land that preceded by at least 20 million years the Cambrian evolutionary explosion of animals in the sea.” Increased chemical weathering by large organisms on land may have been needed to fuel the demand of nutrient elements by Cambrian animals. Independent discoveries of Cambrian fossils comparable with Ediacaran ones is evidence, he said, that even in the Cambrian, more than 500 million years ago, life on land may have been larger and more complex than life in the sea.
    Retallack leaves open the possibility that some Ediacaran fossils found elsewhere in the world may not be land-based in origin, writing in his conclusion that the many different kinds of these fossils need to be tested and re-evaluated.
    “The key evidence for this new view is that the beds immediately below the cover sandstones in which they are preserved were fossil soils,” he said. “In other words the fossils were covered by sand in life position at the top of the soils in which they grew. In addition, frost features and chemical composition of the fossil soils are evidence that they grew in cold dry soils, like lichens in tundra today, rather than in tropical marine lagoons.”

    Ediacarans Not Related to Cambrian Animals – December 16, 2012
    Excerpt: “These fossils have been a first-class scientific mystery,” he said. “They are the oldest large multicellular fossils. They lived immediately before the Cambrian evolutionary explosion that gave rise to familiar modern groups of animals.”,,
    If not sea creatures, what are they? Retallack suggested they could be “lichens, other microbial consortia, fungal fruiting bodies, slime molds, flanged pedestals of biological soil crusts, and even casts of needle ice.” In the paper and the press release, he had very little to say about evolution, except that the Ediacarans represent “an independent evolutionary radiation of life on land that preceded by at least 20 million years the Cambrian evolutionary explosion of animals in the sea.”

    Retallack’s work on the Ediacaran fossils looks, at least to me, to be pretty solid work since it seems to have held up to scrutiny as far as I know. If this current work also holds up to scrutiny will be interesting to see.

  4. 4

    I got a hunch conclusions about life existing in the past are based on geological ideas and not biological ones.
    Whoa. What if the geology was wrong?
    Where would the biology of life origins go?

  5. Heck, I want to know if there was life on earth 2 weeks ago!

    Last Thursdayism

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