Detecting ancient life: Investigating the nature and origin of possible stromatolites and associated calcite from a one billion year old lake

Alex Brasier, Paul Dennis, J Still, John Parnell, T Culwick, Martin Brasier, D Wacey, S Bowden, Simon Crook, Adrian Boyce, D Muirhead

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Putative stromatolites and associated carbonate minerals in 1.1 Ga Stoer Group lacustrine sedimentary rocks were analysed to deduce their likely origins. Potential stromatolite examples included finely laminated and sometimes wrinkled carbonate-siliciclastic rocks of the Clachtoll Formation at Clachtoll and Bay of Stoer, and laminated limestone domes of the Poll a’Mhuilt Member (Bay of Stoer Formation) from Enard Bay.
Petrography shows that the lamination and wrinkling of Clachtoll Formation specimens can most logically be explained by abiotic siliclastic sedimentary processes, namely rippling and soft-sediment deformation probably related to de-watering. Electron backscatter diffraction shows that the carbonate in these laminated Clachtoll Formation specimens was calcite, and petrography combined with clumped isotope palaeothermometry indicates it was likely to be part syn-depositional and part burial diagenetic in origin.
The laminated domes of the Poll a’Mhuilt Member are shown to comprise clasts of limestone interlayered with clay, quartz, Na-rich feldspars and micas. Cathodoluminescence revealed the limestone clasts to be composite and built of sub-grains that must have been derived from an earlier, potentially Palaeoproterozoic, carbonate unit. Support for this hypothesis comes from clumped isotope palaeotemperature measurements that indicate the limestone clasts were precipitated or recrystallized under higher temperature conditions than the burial diagenetic calcite found in the Clachtoll Formation. Raman spectra of an organic carbon particle within a laminated dome of the Poll a’Mhuilt Member at Enard Bay are consistent with the organic carbon having been re-worked from the ∼2 Ga Loch Maree Group, and we speculate that this might also be true of the calcite.
Microbial fossils are well known from elsewhere in the Stoer Group, but no conclusive examples were found within the thin-sections examined herein. No conclusive evidence was found to suggest that any of the examined putative stromatolites were biogenic, leading to the conclusion that they are best considered stromatolite-like sedimentary rocks (pseudostromatolites).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-320
Number of pages12
JournalPrecambrian Research
Early online date3 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2019

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