Metamorphism is thought to destroy microfossils, partly through devolatilization and graphitization of biogenic organic matter. However, the extent to which there is a loss of molecular, elemental and isotope signatures from biomass during high-temperature metamorphism is not clearly established. We report on graphitic structures inside and coating apatite grains from the c. 1850 Ma Michigamme silicate banded iron formation from Michigan, metamorphosed above 550°C. Traces of N, S, O, H, Ca and Fe are preserved in this graphitic carbon and X-ray spectra show traces of aliphatic groups. Graphitic carbon has an expanded lattice around 3.6 Å, forms microscopic concentrically-layered and radiating polygonal flakes and has homogeneous δ13C values around −22‰, identical to bulk analyses. Graphitic carbon inside apatite is associated with nanometre-size ammoniated phyllosilicate. Precursors of these metamorphic minerals and graphitic carbon originated from ferruginous clay-rich sediments with biomass. We conclude that graphite coatings and inclusions in apatite grains indicate fluid remobilization during amphibolite-facies metamorphism of precursor biomass. This new evidence fills in observational gaps of metamorphosed biomass into graphite and supports the existence of biosignatures in the highly metamorphosed iron formation from the Eoarchean Akilia Association, which dates from the beginning of the sedimentary rock record.
Supplementary material: Figures illustrating the petrography and analytical results are available at: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4430609