Delarue F., Rouzaud J.-N., Derenne S., Bourbin M., Westall F., Kremer B., Sugitani K., Deldicque D. and Robert F.
Astrobiology (2016) 16 (6) 407-417 - doi : 10.1089/ast.2015.1392
publié le , mis à jour le
The search for indisputable traces of life in Archean cherts is of prime importance. However, their great age and metamorphic history pose constraints on the study of molecular biomarkers. We propose a quantitative criterion to document the thermal maturity of organic matter in rocks in general, and Archean rocks in particular. This is definitively required to select the best candidates for seeking non-altered sample remnants of life. Analysis of chemical (Raman spectroscopy, (13)C NMR, elemental analysis) and structural (HRTEM) features of Archean and non-Archean carbonaceous matter (CM) that was submitted to metamorphic grades lower than, or equal to, that of greenschist facies showed that these features had all undergone carbonization but not graphitization. Raman-derived quantitative parameters from the present study and from literature spectra, namely, R1 ratio and FWHM-D1, were used to draw a carbonization continuum diagram showing two carbonization stages. While non-Archean samples can be seen to dominate the first stage, the second stage mostly consists of the Archean samples. In this diagram, some Archean samples fall at the boundary with non-Archean samples, which thus demonstrates a low degree of carbonization when compared to most Archean CM. As a result, these samples constitute candidates that may contain preserved molecular signatures of Archean CM. Therefore, with regard to the search for the oldest molecular traces of life on Earth, we propose the use of this carbonization continuum diagram to select the Archean CM samples.