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ABSTRACT

This contribution attempts to recount our collective progress in understanding the Archean–Hadean Earth system over the past 50 yr. Many realms of the geological sciences (geochemistry, petrology, geophysics, structural geology, geobiology, planetary science, and more) have made substantive contributions to this effort. These contributions have changed our understanding of the Archean–Hadean Earth in five major areas: (1) the expanse of Archean–Hadean time; (2) tectonics and lithospheric evolution, particularly possible analogs for the sites of modern, primary crust production and mantle differentiation (e.g., magmatic arcs, ocean ridges, and large igneous provinces); (3) evolution of the atmosphere-hydrosphere system, and its impact on the evolution of Earth’s endogenic and exogenic systems; (4) the history of liquid water, particularly at the ocean scale; and (5) the origin and development of the biosphere and its impact on the geologic record. We also emphasize that much of the progress made in understanding the evolution of early Earth systems over the past 50 yr has been fueled by important technological advances in analytical geochemistry, such as the advent of ion probes for U-Pb zircon geochronology, inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry for trace-element and Hf isotopic analyses, Raman spectroscopy in organic geochemistry, and molecular reconstructions in biology. Within this context, we specifically review progress in our understanding of the Eoarchean history of southern West Greenland as an example of the value of continuous integration of careful geologic observation and mapping with evolving technology, which have combined to further open this window into Earth’s earliest systems.

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