Abstract

The three well-documented occurrences of three-dimensional stromatolites older than 3.2 Ga meet most criteria for biogenicity except the presence of fossil bacteria. However, they also show features more consistent with nonbiological origins. Small conical structures in the Strelley Pool chert in the upper part of the Warrawoona Group (3.5-3.2 Ga), Western Australia, lack the structure typical of stromatolites and probably formed mainly through evaporitic precipitation. A domal structure from the North Pole chert, Warrawoona Group, formed by soft-sediment deformation of originally flat layers. Laminated chert containing domal and pseudocolumnar structures in the Onverwacht Group (3.5-3.3 Ga), Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa, extends downward into veins and cavities, where it formed through inorganic precipitation. Although bacterial communities were widespread on Earth prior to 3.2 Ga, these particular three-dimensional structures are probably abiotic in origin and do not provide information on the paleobiology or paleobiology of early organisms. The paucity of Archean stromatolites older than 3.2 Ga probably reflects the paucity of known and possibly extant carbonate deposits of this age.

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