The oldest fossils ever may have been found in Canada

Researchers have discovered what might end up being the oldest fossils ever found, it has been announced, ones that fall into the so-called "microfossils" designation. You can't see these tiny fossils with the naked eye, as they are the fossils of microbes from the ancient world. Their exact age isn't known, but they're estimated to be — at minimum — 3.77 billion years old, eclipsing the previous confirmed 3.5 billion year old microfossils.

These ancient microfossils were discovered in Canada in what used to be a hydrothermal vent found near the ocean's floor. The microbes — now immortalized as fossils — would have lived in those vents, where they eventually died. The fossils were created via the introduction of iron into the dead microbes' bodies, and they were ultimately preserved along with the vents themselves.

Over the billions of years that passed, those ocean floor vents moved upward until they became part of the landscape as the Nuvvuagittuq belt. A combination of features, including the existence of graphite in the material, lead researchers to believe the source of the findings was biological — that is, very ancient life. While 3.77 billion years old is the conservative estimate, the microfossils could prove to be as old as 4.28 billion years old.

Not surprisingly, though, such extreme claims require ample proof, and some researchers are skeptical about whether the dating estimates are actually correct. Some researchers want to see extraordinary proof to match the seemingly extraordinary claims, and until then the dates will remain in contention.

SOURCE: WaPo, Nature