Some graphite contained in the 3.7-billion-year-old metasedimentary rocks of the Isua Supracrustal Belt, Western Greenland, is depleted in 13 C and has been interpreted as evidence for early life. However, it is unclear whether this graphite is primary, or was precipitated from metamorphic or igneous fluids. Here we analyse the geochemistry and structure of the 13 C-depleted graphite in the Isua schists. Raman spectroscopy and geochemical analyses indicate that the schists are formed from clastic marine sediments that contained 13 C-depleted carbon at the time of their deposition. Transmission electron microscope observations show that graphite in the schist occurs as nanoscale polygonal and tube-like grains, in contrast to abiotic graphite in carbonate veins that exhibits a flaky morphology. Furthermore, the graphite grains in the schist contain distorted crystal structures and disordered stacking of sheets of graphene. The observed morphologies are consistent with pyrolysation and pressurization of structurally heterogeneous organic compounds during metamorphism. We thus conclude that the graphite contained in the Isua metasediments represents traces of early life that flourished in the oceans at least 3.7 billion years ago.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)