Composite hematite–silica structures recovered from a siltstone bed in the Elatina Formation of South Australia include (1) sub-circular to whorl-shaped forms, (2) elongate to half-moon-shaped forms and (3) and lozenge-shaped forms locally linked into chains. They range from 200 to 500 µm in diameter and are interpreted as eukaryote tests. Evidence for internal etching of a calcite core of some tests indicates that at least some of the hematite–silica fabrics were acquired through replacement. Carbon isotope values of −20‰ δ13C are suggestive of precipitation by microbial activity, and imply a change in ambient fluid chemistry associated with a pH reduction. The tests occur within sandstone beds that were deposited on a tidally modulated braidplain during the Marinoan glaciation at the end of the Cryogenian. The quartz grains in the sandstone sample lack the typical textures (surface striae, internal fractures or irregular grain boundaries) expected for glacially transported material. Thus, on textural grounds we argue that the eukaryote tests represent a proglacial ecosystem during a late Cryogenian snowball Earth event.

Supplementary material: Video files of digital X-ray tomographs (μCT) in the longitudinal and transverse planes are available at: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.2209723.

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