26 September 2023

New update on State’s oldest fossils

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The Geological Survey of Western Australia (GSWA) has published a handbook summarising more than 50 years of geoscience research in the State.

The handbook features the study of some of Earth’s oldest fossils, created by microbes some of which date back to the Archean Period, around 3.5 billion years ago.

Retired Chief Palaeontologist at the GSWA, Kathleen Grey worked with Stanley Awramik from the University of California, Santa Barbara, to develop the GSWA Bulletin 147 Handbook for the study and description of the fossils, called microbialites.

Safety Executive Director, Geological Survey and Resource Strategy at the Department of Mines, Jeff Haworth said the handbook set a benchmark for universal terminology and descriptive methodology for the study of microbialites.

“Dr Grey used the unique geology of Western Australia, which is known for its rich record of living and fossil microbialites, to study these life forms in conjunction with scientists from various disciplines,” Mr Haworth said.

“The handbook holds significance for researchers exploring early life here on Earth, and those working on modern examples.”

He said that due to the State’s wide expanses of geologically old rocks, it was considered one of the most important research areas on the origin and evolution of early life on Earth.

“This publication provides specialist geologists and palaeontologists worldwide with field research tools and guidelines for the first time, which will influence and advance the study of these fascinating and distinctive formations for years to come,” Mr Haworth said.

“It is also of interest to the space exploration community because current theories suggest that if life ever existed on Mars, it would most likely resemble microbialites, some of the earliest forms of life on Earth.

“This is due to the similar early histories of both planets,” he said.

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