Discoidal carbonaceous compressions are the most common type of Precambrian macrofossils with a long temporal range starting from the late Paleoproterozoic. However, their unsolved biological nature restricts our understanding of the early evolution of macroscopic life. Here we report an assemblage of well-preserved discoidal carbonaceous macrofossils from the early Mesoproterozoic Gaoyuzhuang Formation in North China, which provides insights into this problem. They are preserved in round to elliptical shapes with sizes ranging from millimeters to several centimeters. Petrographic thin sections show that the macrofossils consist of laminated structures with alternating organic matter along with clay minerals and dolomites. Neither cellular structures nor individual microfossils were identified within them, but their regular shape, internal structures, and associated mineral constituents suggest that they are probably remains of the microbial biofilms, rather than multicellular organisms. It presents a well-preserved fossil example of microbial biofilms with macroscopic size and regular overall morphology. It further implies a possible origin of microbial biofilm for some of the early carbonaceous macrofossils and calls for detailed reexaminations of those macrofossils to exclude such possibilities. Our finding is consistent with previous studies that biofilms may have played an important role in survival for early microorganisms in the Precambrian ecosystem.

Thematic collection: This article is part of the The North China Craton as a window to Earth’s middle age collection available at: https://www.lyellcollection.org/topic/collections/the-north-china-craton-as-a-window-to-earths-middle-age

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