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The Pilbara craton of northwestern Australia is known for what were, when reported, the oldest known microfossils and paleosols on Earth. Both interpretations are mired in controversy, and neither remain the oldest known. Both the microfossils and the paleosols have been considered hydrothermal artefacts: carbon films of vents and a large hydrothermal cupola, respectively. This study resampled and analyzed putative paleosols within and below the Strelley Pool Formation (3.3 Ga), at four classic locations: Strelley Pool, Steer Ridge, Trendall Ridge, and Streckfuss, and also at newly discovered outcrops near Marble Bar. The same sequence of sedimentary facies and paleosols was newly recognized unconformably above the locality for microfossils in chert of the Apex Basalt (3.5 Ga) near Marble Bar. The fossiliferous Apex chert was not a hydrothermal vein but a thick (15 m) sedimentary interbed within a sequence of pillow basalts, which form an angular unconformity capped by the same pre-Strelley paleosol and Strelley Pool Formation facies found elsewhere in the Pilbara region. Baritic alluvial paleosols within the Strelley Pool Formation include common microfossil spindles (cf. Eopoikilofusa) distinct from marine microfossil communities with septate filaments (Primaevifilum) of cherts in the Apex and Mt Ada Basalts. Phosphorus and iron depletion in paleosols within and below the Strelley Pool Formation are evidence of soil communities of stable landscapes living under an atmosphere of high CO2 (2473 ± 134 ppmv or 8.8 ± 0.5 times preindustrial atmospheric level of 280 ppm) and low O2 (2181 ± 3018 ppmv or 0.01 ± 0.014 times modern).

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.