We report evidence for the seawater origin of an extremely metal-enriched sulfide- and organic carbon–rich marker bed in a transgressive Early Cambrian black shale sequence along the passive margin of the Yangtze platform. The element concentration pattern in this marker bed suggests that it formed in a sediment-starved, stratified basin with a euxinic water column below an oxic surface layer. Biological activity was high in the surface layer, which was resupplied by communication with oxic oceans. The extremely low terrigenous input and the sulfate-reducing environment in the deeper part of the basin led to exceptionally high metal enrichments by factors of ∼107 with respect to modern seawater. The composition of the sulfidic rocks reflects the composition of the Early Cambrian oceans. The molybdenum isotope ratio suggests that during this time <35% of marine Mo was deposited in oxic sediments, and that suboxicanoxic marine environments were more widespread during the Early Cambrian than today.

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