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Abstract

Around 88% of the history of the Earth occurred during the Precambrian period, which can be subdivided into the Archaean and the Proterozoic eons (Figs. 2.1 & 2.2). The Archaean eon (Greek archaia — ancient ones; 4.56-2.5 Ga) comprises the Eo-Palaeo-, Meso-and Neoarchaean eras. For the early Archaean the term Hadean is also used (Greek hades — unseen or hell; 4.56-3.8 Ga) (Fig. 2.1). The Proterozoic eon (Greek proteros — first, zoon — creature; 2.5-0.542 Ga) is composed of the Palaeo-, Meso-and Neoproterozoic eras (Fig. 2.2). The latter eras can be subdivided into different periods defined by the International Commission on Stratigraphy on the basis of geochronological data and characteristic features such as particular geotectonic settings and events (Gradstein et al. 2004). Palaeoproterozoic periods include the Siderian (Greek sideros — iron; 2.5-2.3 Ga), the Rhyacian (Greek rhyax — steam of lava; 2.3-2.05 Ga), the Orosirian (Greek orosira — mountain range; 2.05-1.8 Ga) and the Statherian (Greek statheros — stable; 1.8-1.6 Ga). The Calymmian (Greek calymma — cover; 1.6-1.4 Ga), Ectasian (Greek ectasis — extension; 1.4-1.2 Ga), and Stenian (Greek stenos — narrow; 1.2-1.0 Ga) are the Mesoproterozoic periods, while the Neoproterozoic is subdivided into the Tonian (Greek tonas — stretch; 1.0-0.85 Ga), Cryogenian (Greek cryos — ice, genesis — birth; 0.85-0.635 Ga), and finally Ediacaran (0.635-0.542 Ma). This latter is named after the Ediacara Hills (Flinders Ranges, Australia) and characteristically contains the Ediacara biota which represents the dawn of evolved life-forms. The Ediacaran period

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