The Paleoarchean (/ˌpeɪlioʊɑːrˈkiːən/), also spelled Palaeoarchaean (formerly known as early Archean), is a geologic era within the Archaean Eon. The name derives from Greek "Palaios" ancient. It spans the period of time 3,600 to 3,200 million years ago. The era is defined chronometrically and is not referenced to a specific level of a rock section on Earth. The earliest confirmed evidence of life comes from this era, and Vaalbara, one of Earth's earliest supercontinents, may have formed during this era.[2][3]

Proposed redefinition(s)4031–3490 Ma
Gradstein et al., 2012
Proposed subdivisionsAcastan Period, 4031–3810 Ma

Gradstein et al., 2012
Isuan Period, 3810–3490 Ma

Gradstein et al., 2012
Name formalityFormal
Alternate spelling(s)Palaeoarchaean
Synonym(s)Early Archean
Usage information
Celestial bodyEarth
Regional usageGlobal (ICS)
Time scale(s) usedICS Time Scale
Chronological unitEra
Stratigraphic unitErathem
Time span formalityFormal
Lower boundary definitionDefined Chronometrically
Lower boundary GSSPN/A
GSSP ratifiedN/A
Upper boundary definitionDefined Chronometrically
Upper boundary GSSPN/A
GSSP ratifiedN/A

Early lifeEdit

The geological record from the Paleoarchean era is very limited. Due to deformation and metamorphism, most rocks from the Paleoarchean era cannot provide any useful information. There are only two locations in the world containing rock formations that are intact enough to preserve evidence of early life: the Kaapvaal Craton in Southern Africa and the Pilbara Craton in Western Australia.[4] The Dresser Formation, located in the Pilbara Craton, contains samples of sedimentary rock from the Paleoarchean Era.[4] Inside the rocks, there are microbial mats containing the oldest ascertained life form, fossilized bacteria estimated to be 3.48 billion years old.[2] The Strelley Pool Chert, also located in the Pilbara Craton, contains stromatolites that may have been created by bacteria 3.4 billion years ago. However, it is possible that these stromatolies are abiogenic and were actually formed through evaporitic precipitation then deposited on the sea floor.[5] The Barberton Greenstone Belt, located in the Kaapvaal Craton, also contains evidence of life. It was created 3.26 billion years ago when a large asteroid, about 37 to 58 kilometres (23–36 mi) wide, collided with the Earth.[6] The Buck Reef Chert and the Josefsdal Chert, two rock formations in the Barberton Greenstone Belt, both contain microbial mats with fossilized bacteria from the Paleoarchean era.[4]

A stromatolite formed by Paleoarchean miocrobial mats, preserved as a fossil, from Pilbara craton, Western Australia

Continental developmentEdit

Similarities between the Barberton Greenstone Belt in the Kaapvaal Craton and the eastern part of the Pilbara Craton indicate that the two formations were once joined as part of the supercontinent Vaalbara, one of Earth's earliest supercontinents.[3] Both cratons formed at the beginning of the Paleoarchean era.[7] While some paleomagnetic data suggests that they were connected during the Paleoarchean era, it is possible that Vaalbara did not form until the Mesoarchean or Neoarchean eras.[3]

It is also unclear whether there was any exposed land during the Paleoarchean era. Although several Paleoarchean formations such as the Dresser Fromation, the Josefsdal Chert, and the Mendon Formation show some evidence of being above the surface, over 90 percent of Archean continental crust has been destroyed, making the existence of exposed land practically impossible to confirm or deny. It is likely that during the Paleoarchean era, there was a large amount of continental crust, but it was still underwater and would not emerge until later in the Archean era. Hotspot islands may have been the only exposed land at the time.[8]

Artist's impression of what Vaalbara may have looked like


  1. ^ Caredona, Tanai (6 March 2018). "Early Archean origin of heterodimeric Photosystem I". Heliyon. 4 (3): e00548. doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2018.e00548. PMC 5857716. PMID 29560463. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b Lepot, Kevin (2020). "Signatures of early microbial life from the Archean (4 to 2.5 Ga) eon". Earth-Science Reviews. 209: 103296. Bibcode:2020ESRv..20903296L. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2020.103296. ISSN 0012-8252. S2CID 225413847.
  3. ^ a b c Bradley, Kyle; Weiss, Benjamin P.; Buick, Roger (2015). "Records of geomagnetism, climate, and tectonics across a Paleoarchean erosion surface". Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 419: 1–13. Bibcode:2015E&PSL.419....1B. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2015.03.008. ISSN 0012-821X.
  4. ^ a b c Homann, Martin (2019). "Earliest life on Earth: Evidence from the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa". Earth-Science Reviews. 196: 102888. Bibcode:2019ESRv..19602888H. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2019.102888. ISSN 0012-8252. S2CID 198424907.
  5. ^ Van Kranendonk, Martin J. (2007-01-01), van Kranendonk, Martin J.; Smithies, R. Hugh; Bennett, Vickie C. (eds.), "Chapter 7.2 A Review of the Evidence for Putative Paleoarchean Life in the Pilbara Craton, Western Australia", Developments in Precambrian Geology, Earth's Oldest Rocks, Elsevier, vol. 15, pp. 855–877, doi:10.1016/s0166-2635(07)15072-6, ISBN 9780444528100, retrieved 2021-11-26
  6. ^ “Scientists reconstruct ancient impact that dwarfs dinosaur-extinction blast”, American Geophysical Union, April 9, 2014
  7. ^ Van Kranendonk, Martin J.; Smithies, R. Hugh; Griffin, William L.; Huston, David L.; Hickman, Arthur H.; Champion, David C.; Anhaeusser, Carl R.; Pirajno, Franco (2015). "Making it thick: a volcanic plateau origin of Palaeoarchean continental lithosphere of the Pilbara and Kaapvaal cratons". Geological Society, London, Special Publications. 389 (1): 83–111. Bibcode:2015GSLSP.389...83V. doi:10.1144/SP389.12. ISSN 0305-8719. S2CID 130084679.
  8. ^ Korenaga, Jun (2021). "Was There Land on the Early Earth?". Life. 11 (11): 1142. doi:10.3390/life11111142. PMC 8623345. PMID 34833018.

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