Life – 4 billion-ish years old, zero evolution time.

The Hadean is named for hades as it was a time of molten rock and hellish conditions. It ends at about 4 Billion years ago, when the late heavy bombardment ends. Then life evolved… Over Millions and Millions of years (or Billions, in your best Carl Sagen voice)

The Geologic Ages

Geologic Ages

But recent micro fossils are showing ages at “about 4 Billion years old”. That narrows the time to evolve the cell considerably. Essentially into the error bands on dates. A few million years, or maybe none.

That then implies life forms spontaneously very very fast, or it arrived from space or “something else happened”. In any case, it makes the Billions of evolutionary years argument palid.

Oldest fossils point to thriving life on young Earth
September 1, 2016 by Will Wright

Australian researchers have found the world’s oldest fossils, revealing that diverse life forms thrived on Earth 3.7 billion years ago.
“The significance of stromatolites is that not only do they provide obvious evidence of ancient life that is visible with the naked eye, but that they are complex ecosystems,” Professor Nutman said.
“This indicates that as long as 3.7 billion years ago microbial life was already diverse. This diversity shows that life emerged within the first few hundred million years of Earth’s existence, which is in keeping with biologists’ calculations showing the great antiquity of life’s genetic code.”
The discovery pushes back the fossil record to near the start of the Earth’s geological record and points to evidence of life on Earth very early in its history.

“Already diverse” so it started a lot earlier… but we are almost out of earlier…

4 billion years: World’s oldest fossils unearthed
March 1, 2017

Haematite tubes from the NSB hydrothermal vent deposits that represent the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth. Credit: Matthew Dodd
Remains of microorganisms at least 3,770 million years old have been discovered by an international team led by UCL scientists, providing direct evidence of one of the oldest life forms on Earth.
Tiny filaments and tubes formed by bacteria that lived on iron were found encased in quartz layers in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB), Quebec, Canada.
The NSB contains some of the oldest sedimentary rocks known on Earth which likely formed part of an iron-rich deep-sea hydrothermal vent system that provided a habitat for Earth’s first life forms between 3,770 and 4,300 million years ago. “Our discovery supports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after planet Earth formed. This speedy appearance of life on Earth fits with other evidence of recently discovered 3,700 million year old sedimentary mounds that were shaped by microorganisms,” explained first author, PhD student Matthew Dodd (UCL Earth Sciences and the London Centre for Nanotechnology).

Basically, as soon as it was an aqueous soup, it had life. THEN evolution worked to turn it into all the other forms. I think that is a problem for the stochastic evolution of the cell folks.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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40 Responses to Life – 4 billion-ish years old, zero evolution time.

  1. u.k.(us) says:

    Wonder where consciousness would be placed ?

  2. gary turner says:

    @u.k. If one were to examine the soi-disant Liberal Democrats, we’re still waiting.

  3. omanuel says:

    Geochronology studies of the early system suggest that:

    1. A supernova explosion birthed the entire solar system ~5.1 Ga ago

    2. Refractory grains of CS (silicon carbide) and C (diamond) formed in ~1-10 Ma

    3. Earth evolved from an iron ball and the Sun evolved from a naked pulsar in ~1 Ga.

    4. Cyanobacteria using UV light from the early Sun appeared on Earth ~ 4 Ga ago.

  4. omanuel says:

    1. Combined decays of U-238 and Pu-244 date the supernova birth of the solar system ~5.1 Ga ago:

    2. Decay, Al-26 => Mg-26, dates formation of refractory grains in solar system in next ~1-10 Ma:

    3. CP radiation from the pulsar remnant partially separated d- and l-forms of amino acids in carbon-rich meteorites

    4. The most probable first molecules of life, RNA or DNA, appeared ~ 4 Ga ago after waste products from the pulsar accumulated into a solar photosphere that blocked shortwave and CP light from the pulsar itself. RNA and DNA molecules are transparent to visible light but strongly absorb in the ultraviolet between about 200 and 300 nm.

  5. p.g.sharrow says:

    If the WAG of the Universe age is correct, GOD had 10 billion years to create and seed the spores of life throughout it. Life can exist anywhere liquid water can exist so it may be quite common…pg

  6. gallopingcamel says:

    “Life can exist anywhere liquid water can exist so it may be quite common…pg”

    Yes. So it seems likely that life exists on Europa and maybe a couple of other bodies within this solar system.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    FWIW, I’m of the opinion that there ought to be other chemical systems that could display life. Silicon or silicones perhaps (life already has enzymes that move and use silicon, and I could see it as essential in hotter harsher environments), then perhaps some other polymer system at extreme cold where proteins are brittle and fracture. We’ve done very little to explore the range of chemistry at 100 K. Most of that is admiring how things are different in a bad way, instead of looking at things that are gasses and volatile at our temperatures, but gooey and viscose when cold. Perhaps a liquid ammonia mediated system.

    My thesis (totally untested) is that Carbon is only unique in forming polymers at our present temperature range. If significantly colder or hotter, other atoms might be amenable to that role. We know we can make heterogeneous polymers out of Si, and it can be manipulated with enzymes. So that ought to just be a matter of designing higher temperature analogs of existing DNA and enzyme systems. On the colder end, there are several already known inorganic polymers:

    I’d expect maybe something in the N-B family or possibly something entirely different. We need to do a lot more cryogenic chemistry to find out the options.

    But I am quite sure we do NOT know enough to rule it out… I could easily imagine a world where H20 is a common rock, liquid ammonia the seas, and B-N polymers (or similar) the backbone of life.

  8. omanuel says:

    IMHO, the entire dynamic universe is “alive” because continuous, reversible transitions between two forms of one fundamental particle continuously exchange mass and energy
    E = mc^2

    Neutrons: Compacted electron-proton pairs
    H-atoms: Expanded electron-proton pairs

    Conscious awareness of our own lives seems limited to ~60-90 years, but every atom in our body will continue to vibrate in harmonious vibration with its creator – the Sun’s pulsar core with a 40-minute heartbeat.

  9. omanuel says:

    The conscious mind is both an asset and a liability that:

    Allows us to understand logically the dangers in our surroundings.
    Blocks us from surrender to harmonious life with our surroundings.

    At night the conscious mind lets go, the subconscious mind gets in harmony with its surroundings and we awaken with creative insight into dilemmas the conscious mind could not resolve. I.e., our most creative talents and insights come the nearby pulsar?

  10. bob sykes says:

    There is no stochastic theory of the evolution. The Darwinian theory is that random changes in heritable characters is acted on by a selection process. The selection process is differential reproduction. Changes that improve reproduction are kept, and changes that impair reproduction are lost. Evidently, this is an extremely rapid process, easily fitting into a million years or less.

    The fixation of many educated people on the random element, which merely provides the material for selection, and their ignoring of the selection process, which is fundamental, is bizarre.

  11. Lars P. says:

    Well, pity the Earth does not have even older rocks, but maybe with a more permanent presence on the moon we might be lucky enough to find older rocks with fossilised signs of life on the moon…

  12. Ralph B says:

    That gives a pretty short time for protein to form. I recall the infinitely small chance of them forming on their own and now with hundreds of millions of years less time…

  13. E.M.Smith says:


    Perhaps I ought to have stated “Stochastic evolution of the creation of the first cell” to be more clear. The point is not about selection and evolution once life exists, but the evolution OF life, the first cell. It is a significant problem.

    My point about stochastic was not connected to anyone else’s positions. It was only that the first chemical soup is RANDOM and what reactions happen over time and change is RANDOM as the mix of stuff changes in RANDOM ways. That, by definition, is stochastic. Once life exists, you can select for better traits. That’s obvious. For life to form in the first place, there is no competition between species nor any pressure for more evolved life. It is an entirely random process until life first forms.

    There is no foundation for the idea that life can happen in zero time to a million years time. (Nor is their any foundation to say it is not possible). That was sort of my point. ONE of the options (that I listed) is that life spontaneously forms in that early chemical soup bowl far faster than we have historically talked about (billions of years, many millions of years). Then, IF that is true, the universe simply must be chock full of life as it must form spontaneously fast and often (to then be selected and evolve).

    So one possible conclusion is that everywhere we look, we ought to find life. Loads of it. Time to go looking!

    An alternative, also stated, is that in the 10 Billion years prior to the formation of the Earth, life had plenty of time to form the first cells via slower (also stochastic) chemical and physical processes. The problem then becomes “how did they arrive on the new Earth”? Since we know space is cold, and we know life can survive long times frozen, I think this is a likely path. It may just be projection of “what I’d like to be true” as that ‘panspermia’ method would also mean life ought to be pandemic in the universe. A “quick check” would be to go out and look over the surfaces of a lot of asteroids and comets and see if there are any scraps of ancient old life collected as it drifted by.

    That both of these processes have a strong stochastic basis is just a statement of the facts. Which rocks? Which minerals? What concentrations? What energy fluxes? What gasses and liquids? All of them a flux of mush. That’s about as random a chemical reactor as I can imagine. Yet somehow it evolved the first cell (somewhere…)

    Finally, I also allowed for “something else happened”. I could see that being anything from “God did it” to “this universe is just an alien Grad Student thesis experiment and our perspective is way broken” to “life can evolve at 2000K during the Hadean and we are clueless” to … well, honorable mention to the possibility that the rules of chemistry and physics so constrain things that the chemical process of forming the first cell isn’t a random soup process, but a constrained outcome; which could also be the method by which a God operates (i.e. Who then made those rules?…) in which case my statement of RANDOM chemical soup is seriously broken (as you assert) but then also life must be universal, so again we need to go out there for a meet-and-greet…

    Do note I am not advocating for any of those answers as the “right” one. Not enough data.

    What I would *like* is any of the ones that make life a universe filling result.

    What I think is most likely is that life first formed during the 10 Billion year run-up to “us”, and likely on a planet with much lower gravity (so ejection to space is easier) and as a rock loving species (we have them on Earth, living in solid rock far underground). Then you have a fairly simple (and demonstrated) method by which such rocks can be blasted into space by impacts, frozen, and on reentry to another planet not fully cook the insides before it hits water and cools. I can see that happening very easily (if not very often).

    What I can also see as a “fun possible” would be intelligent life evolved during that 10 Billion somewhere else, and realized that all life eventually gets exterminated in any solar system (and speed of light limits prevent them personally leaving for far far away…). So they made ampules of life. Arks of bacteria (suited to many environments as you don’t know what you will find) and fired them off into space toward different solar systems. At a few grams each, you could make “Billions and Billions” of them. Eventually some of them will land on planets just reaching the right “warm soup” stage, and seed life. It would assure life survives as solar systems explode and evaporate. One landed on Earth just after the Late Heavy Bombardment, and “life happened” nearly instantly. (So again, we ought to go ‘out there’ and look around for any of these things on the local space objects…)

    Of all of those, I think “evolved during the 10 Billion and blasted into space on a rock” is the most likely (at least without “magical thinking” or “fun possible fantasy”); but most likely does not mean “right” or “correct”…

  14. u.k.(us) says:

    Umm, why would anything need to be blasted anywhere, if it was being produced so easily ?

  15. E.M.Smith says:


    The moon rocks are about the same age as the oldest Earth rocks. The theory is that the proto Earth was hit by another forming planet and the result was our moon / Earth system all melted…

    So to find other older rocks you need to go to other planets, other moons, or the asteroids.

    Which I think we need to do…

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    @US / UK:

    The notion is an ‘either or’.

    Either it forms very easily and formed here and need not be blasted anywhere, OR

    it forms very slowly (billions and billions…) and could not have formed here in a couple of million years, so had to be blasted off of some other rock and arrived here as the Hadean ended.

  17. u.k.(us) says:

    Arrived here from where ?, some sort of seed pod ?
    My convoluted thinking brings me to the theory that if you bring the right chemicals together and then provide a spark….things happen.
    Who’s to say our bodies are nothing more than an engine to keep the sparks firing in our neurons.
    To what end, I couldn’t say.
    Such is life :)

  18. p.g.sharrow says:

    Add to your pondering is this little thing.
    Mammals are genetically a bit different from all other life on this planet. Mammals are sexually male XY, female XX. As far as I know everything else that is sexual differentiated is the reverse, XX male and XY female. When virgin birth takes place among mammals only females are created. All other creatures result in both male and female offspring. Wonder how or why that came about?…pg

  19. Larry Ledwick says:

    Well number of breeding females is the limiting factor for population growth especially in species that generally have single births rather than litters.

    That is why wildlife agencies use hunting permits on does to control deer populations. Too many deer increase the number of doe hunting licenses and the number of breeding females drop.
    One Buck can impregnate multiple does but does can only have a single fawn (with rare exceptions).

    Given the breeding bottle neck that occurred about 70,000 years ago perhaps asexual production of females occurred although I am not aware of anyone proving it has happened in humans, under certain circumstances it does rarely happen for other animals.

  20. E.M.Smith says:

    @UK (US):

    Follow the chain of logic:

    On Earth, we find archaea (very old bacterial forms) living inside rock hundreds of feet down. This seems to be a normal thing for life, and more life is below the surface than on top of it.

    Rocks have been knocked off of Mars and arrived at Earth. We have them so it isn’t a hypothetical.

    Mars was “wet and Earth like” long long ago. Perhaps before Earth was (as we got whacked and formed the moon and had a re-melt).

    Life can form all by itself from the natural chemicals in a wet environment.

    At this point, you can easily have a “chain of events” that has life evolve first on Mars, as got started earlier. Then a meteor impact on Mars knocks loose a big chunk that deorbits and lands on the early Wet Earth. The bacteria in that rock say “OH Yum! A New Planet” and proceed to spread out into all those new yummy rocks.

    Every single chain of that sequence of events has been demonstrated as either an actual event, or there are exemplar events that give it credence. It requires absolutely nothing new be proven to exist in terms of natural phenomenon or physical processes (with the possible exception of life forming on its own “somewhere somehow” as it could be some of the Creation events).

    Life has formed somewhere, sometime, since we are here.
    Mars was wet and warm a very long time ago and likely before Earth.
    Rocks from Mars HAVE been knocked off and landed on Earth.
    Bacteria are shown to live inside solid rocks, even deep rocks.

    There is zero “great leap” in the idea of rocks from Mars bringing archaic rock dwelling bacteria to a proto-Earth seeding it with life.

    There is only a small leap in postulating that could happen over much larger and much longer distances and times (i.e. from other solar systems).


    Oh, and we have had an object fall from space and deliver life to the surface of the Earth, so that can be done too. It was a space ship returning from the Moon full of people… The “heat shield” is basically just a specialized mineral, a rock if you will.

  21. u.k.(us) says:

    Would really rather have this discussion over a burger and a beer, my typing skills being nonexistent,…. just picking your brain.
    Mars the main player ?

  22. llanfar says:

    ― Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    It isn’t that simple… (genetics never is and sexuality is worse. Then mix the two… )

    At least 5 and maybe 6 chromosome based systems plus a couple of environmental ones. Note that alligators and about 95% of all fish have temperature dependent gender determination, so it isn’t exactly rare…

    Then there are the “whatever, I wanna have a kid” species:

    There are many other environmental systems. Some species, such as some snails, practice sex change: adults start out male, then become female. In tropical clown fish, the dominant individual in a group becomes female while the other ones are male, and bluehead wrasses (Thalassoma bifasciatum) are the reverse. In the marine worm (Bonellia viridis), larvae become males if they make physical contact with a female, and females if they end up on the bare sea floor. This is triggered by the presence of a chemical produced by the females, bonellin. Some species, however, have no sex-determination system. Hermaphrodite species include the common earthworm and certain species of snails. A few species of fish, reptiles, and insects reproduce by parthenogenesis and are female altogether. There are some reptiles, such as the boa constrictor and Komodo dragon that can reproduce both sexually and asexually, depending on whether a mate is available.

    Other unusual systems include the Swordtail fish; the Chironomus midges; the platypus, which has 10 sex chromosomes but lacks the mammalian sex-determining gene SRY, meaning that the process of sex determination in the platypus remains unknown; the juvenile hermaphroditism of zebrafish, with an unknown trigger; and the platyfish, which has W, X, and Y chromosomes. This allows WY, WX, or XX females and YY or XY males.

    What system is used by which species or grouping of species depends on their position in the tree of evolution and what mutations they accumulated. Then sometimes “accidents happen” and you get other variations. Like XYY males and XXY males and XXX females and more. Even all humans are not XY or XX types.

    Genetics is very NOT precise and orderly. It IS very “close enough” and messy. There is a lot of effort to keep the species functional, but little care about “how” beyond just making it go… Species like getting into each other’s pants. Genders don’t always mind changing, and having a mate is imperative, except when a species (or sometimes an individual) decides it isn’t….

  24. E.M.Smith says:


    Since it is hypothetical, there isn’t really a “main player”, but Mars is most likely given what we know now.

    Beer and food is dandy, but only if I don’t have to leave the S.F. Bay Area (or someone wants to pay for a flight).

    Is there any interest in a “huddle” get together at somewhere in the area?

    (If so, I’m fond of things from the Jack In The Box / KFC / Burger King / Taco Bell range all the way up to Pizza My Heart and Chevy’s to Marie Callender’s and Harry’s Haufbrau and on up to Stuart Andersons and Mariani’s Italian and … You get the idea, just about anything is “my style” ;-) Oh, and brewpubs are great too. Faultline, Tied House, Gordon Biersch etc etc.)

    About the only thing I don’t like is very loud music such that you can’t talk and high levels of smokers (though the smoke thing has abated with recent legal changes). It isn’t that I’m pathologically against either of them, just that both of them cause me direct unpleasant reactions.

  25. u.k.(us) says:

    @ E.M. Smith,
    If you ever layover at O’Hare, I can give you a guided tour of all my favorite dive bars.
    Smoking is banned and the clientele can’t afford to play the juke box.
    Burger King is within walking distance and the motels only charge you for 15 minutes.

  26. cdquarles says:

    Part of our problem is that we are within the system. There are some things we can know by experience, but these are limited. There are things we can know that we can’t know by experience. These are not as limited, but one ‘knows in vain’ if the premises are false. Much of what we know, in either form is conditional. What I know is that existence exists and the He That Is that is existence is a living thing. It is He that Is that made the rules and since He is infinite and eternal (infinitely infinite?), He knows everything and what things within that knowledge are ‘good’, that is, promote life; and the things that are not, which are those things that are a deprivation of life, up to the point of death (eternal death, either as having your being unmade or eternal separation from He That Is).

    Chemistry is fascinating, though it is a finite thing. Chemistry depends on a material existence and the rules for the creation and change of form for matter and energy. Within our experience, ‘cold’ is the state where the internal energy, especially the internal kinetic energy, is anywhere from zero up to the amounts experienced in our ‘habitable zone’. ‘Hot’ is the state where the internal energy, especially the internal kinetic energy, is greater than our ‘habitable zone’. For material forms, chemical reactions slow down in ‘cold’ and speed up in ‘hot’. I have my doubts about chemically based biological life at low temperatures and at high temperatures.

    My own belief is that our ‘age of universe’ estimates are way off and that we may actually be the initial crucible of chemically based biological life and a part of our ‘keep the garden and dress’ it, had we proven ourselves worthy, was to be the vehicle to plant the seed widely. We failed. That does not mean that non-material life does not exist.

  27. E.M.Smith says:

    @U.K. (US):

    I’m likely to be there about mid-summer. We’ll see…


    You want to read the book “Is God a Mathematician?”. At least, I think that was the one. It explores the question of if math is created or discovered, and, if it is the one I’m thinking of, the question of why the constants of physics are “just so” that leads to life. All sorts of constants, if just a bit different, would result in a universe hostile to life.

    I’ll look around tomorrow when it is light and see if I can find the right title and such.

  28. p.g.sharrow says:

    GOD works in Applied Science and is not a Mathematician. Mathematicians require 128 dimensions to explain their universe. GOD only needs 3, er………….. plus a bit to allow for time.
    Hmmm………. 3.14 is GOD’s secret number and can not be solved by a mathematician…pg

  29. Lars P. says:

    “Of all of those, I think “evolved during the 10 Billion and blasted into space on a rock” is the most likely”
    The question is if the 10 Billion timing is valid (well theoretically 9.6), or the universe is much older then this.

    The moon rocks are about the same age as the oldest Earth rocks.
    On the samples that we got until now yes, however we do have a limited number of samples. It still might be that we’ll find rocks that would push the first fossilised remnants some hundred of million years earlier which would raise very interesting questions as to where do they come from.
    The moon is close by and easier to explore + it has a nice sample of old craters from meteors which themselves might be older.
    Of course we should go & check further.
    I would be very surprised if we do not find any archae on Mars. We did found archae in gold mines some couple of kilometers under the surface, the conditions are not very different on Mars.
    Same with Europa where probably life exist at least some form of amoeba, sea cucumbers and jelly fish. There is a whole chain of life around hydrothermal vents on Earth. To think this could only happen on Earth and not on Europa is a bit preposterous…

  30. p.g.sharrow says:

    Our solar system is said to be a 3rd generation construct. Plenty of time for the local area to be contaminated with the spoors of living chemistry. “life” is an inevitable result from the creation of mater.
    First a Proton-Electron pair is created from the Fabric of Space or the Aether, the Blueprint of creation has begun. GOD is as much a product of that creation as are we. That creation of organization from Chaos is still underway. We are not the end game, merely a part in life’s evolution, to What?… Intelligence? Are we there yet?…pg

  31. cdquarles says:

    EM, I think that I’ve heard of that book. I want to say Martin Gardner mentioned (I forget the spelling, for it has been years, or is it decades, since then).

  32. cdquarles says:

    A question, er, two questions. What would supercritical water do to the sedimentation rate assumptions and would differential solubility of various salts be altered enough to change the decay product concentrations?

  33. cdquarles says:

    @pg, once you allow for change, time must exist. You have state A (before), the processes needed are created and made active, the changes occur, then you have state B (after).

  34. poitsplace says:

    Either the conditions are such that life is virtually a certainty under remotely favorable conditions OR, panspermia. The fact that little bastards living in brine can get locked into salt crystals and survive for several million years gives plenty of time/protection really does make that a thing you have to wonder about. Or maybe they were stuck in permafrost. Those have also been found to survive for millions of years.

  35. Larry Ledwick says:

    The other possibility is that a the physical scale of bacteria, perhaps rock is not as solid as we tend to view it, (especially sedimentary rock that started out as sand or mud and was richly inoculated with life when it was first laid down) and it can be slowly invaded by small organisms as soon as it cools enough to suit them. In some cases they might excrete acids which slowly etch away at the surrounding rock.

    For example what would be the smallest pore size that an amoeba could squeeze through?

  36. Graeme No.3 says:

    An amoeba is rather large on a microscopic range. I am told they prefer squeezing into the public service where they are warm and cosy, and able to replicate in numbers.
    The other possibility is that these are artifacts not due to life.

  37. Gary says:

    As a graduate student in the mid-1970s I once met the paleobotanist, Elso Barghoorn, and was privileged to examine one of his microscope slides of a thin section of a South African fossil stromatolite. It held a string of tiny circles that he offered as evidence of early life approximately 3.4 billion years old. It was a simple but quite extraordinary experience, now looking back.

  38. E.M.Smith says:


    I have no idea what supercritical water does to those processes. Never studied supercritical water. My instinct would be to say “nothing”, but water has some weird behaviors so I can only say “no idea”.

  39. cdquarles says:

    And that, my friend EM, is my point. My dig here is why have we not studied this? Take ‘freeze-drying’ for instance. Supercritical carbon dioxide revolutionized it. For pharmaceuticals, nearly all lyophilization is done with supercritical carbon dioxide these days, if I am not mistaken.

  40. p.g.sharrow says:

    Interesting discovery of “live” birth type Dinosaur:
    sea monster fossil has baby inside, indication of sex requirement for reproduction…pg

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