Considerable mobilization of Fe without mobilization of Al in Precambrian paleosols has been documented and attributed to either anoxic- or ligand-promoted dissolution. To elucidate these mechanisms, basalt was dissolved under oxic and anoxic conditions with and without citrate, and the mobility of several elements was analyzed. The extent of release of Fe and P was minor (in citrate-free conditions) or considerable (with citrate) regardless of oxygen pressure. Release of Al was minor in all cases, whereas release of Cu was minor (in anoxic conditions) or considerable (in oxic conditions). Release of Cu was enhanced by citrate. In comparison, in the weathered surface of two of the oldest-known basalt-derived paleosols—the Mount Roe (2.76 Ga) and the Hekpoort (2.25 Ga)— Fe and P were considerably depleted and Al retained, consistent with the presence of organic ligands. Cu, retained in the Mount Roe paleosol but considerably mobilized in the Hekpoort paleosol, documents formation under an anoxic atmosphere and an oxic atmosphere, respectively, as inferred by others on the basis of Fe mobility. The immobility of Al in both paleosols is consistent with formation under conditions in which the annual volume of rainwater was lower than the topsoil pore volume. Mobilization of P in such paleosols developed under low-rainfall conditions provides a new proxy for identification of ligands secreted by terrestrial organisms on early Earth.

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