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Stromatolite Fossils

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stromatolite drawing
Stromatolite fossils for sale, Best prices! Beautifully Natural and cut slabs all showing the characteristic layers of these oldest fossils on earth. We have stromatolites from Bolivia, Morocco and Wyoming

They are finely layered creations of cyanobacteria that grew in shallow seas. Some of these fossils are as much as 3.5 billion years old. Once very abundant these bacteria were capable of turning sunshine directly into energy. They produced oxygen as a by product. Over time this changed the earth's atmosphere! Eventually setting the stage for oxygen breathing life forms like us. Stromatolites are very rare today. One known location is Sharks Bay in Australia.

We have included banded ironstone here even though it is not a stromatolite because the huge amounts of oxygen produced by the stromatolites was responsible for ironstone formation.

What is a Stromatolite?

Stromatolites are layered sedimentary rock formations created by cyanobacteria. The fossilized rock formations often take on a mushroom shape as they harden over time, but they can also be columnar, conical, stratiform, and branching types.

Cyanobacteria, sometimes known as blue-green algae, are microscopic life forms, but are not really algae at all. They exist as colonies of many different bacteria living in symbiosis. Cyanobacteria are a phylum of simple prokaryote cells. Colonies of these cells produce thick mats of slimy stuff. They are found in both fresh and saltwater environments.

How do stromatolites form?
Living cyanobacteria uses up the carbon dioxide in the surrounding water. That causes calcium carbonate to precipitate or solidify from its dissolved state in the water. The cyanobacteria make sticky goo that captures the calcium carbonate and other minerals as well as sand and other sediments. These minerals form a crust over the cyanobacteria, which continue to grow around and through the crusty layer. The process forms layer after layer.

How old Are Stromatolites?
Stromatolites are the oldest fossils known to man. There are some specimens in Australia dated to 3.9 billion years old! The cyanobacteria that created these fossils photosynthesized carbon dioxide using the energy of the sun and produced oxygen as a waste product.

What's The Big Deal About Stromatolites?
While cyanobacteria are not the oldest living things, nor even the first to use the sun’s energy to photosynthesize, they are the first to use carbon dioxide as the raw material for photosynthesis. Before you say “so what’s the big deal” consider this: The by-product of photosynthesis using carbon dioxide is oxygen! These simple bacteria are responsible for the air we breathe!

stromatolites in Sharkbay Are There Cyanobacteria Forming Stromatolites Today?
Cyanobacteria was a dominant force in the Earth's oceans and lakes of Precambrian Times. They formed stromatolite fossils all over the world. There is still an abundance of cyanobacteria living in both fresh and saltwater today but stromatolites are now a rare occurrence. Why? The answer is pretty simple, other living things eat the cyanobacteria before they can build up layer upon layer. There are a few places on Earth where stromatolites are still being formed today. They are in environments that are inhospitable to most living things, usually too salty. SharkBay, Australia, and the Bahamas are two such places.
Shark Bay, Australia
Photo taken by Paul Harrison (Reading, UK)

Learn more about Stromatolites.

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