Ancient 3.5 Billion-Year-Old Diamonds Hold Clues To Primeval Earth

First Posted: Jan 27, 2016 02:44 PM EST

A collection of diamonds from 3.5-billion years ago are "the perfect little time capsules" that are shedding new light on the structure of the early, ancient Earth. In this study, the researchers examined three diamonds that were extracted from a 3-billion-year-old sedimentary rock formation in the Witwatersrand Supergroup in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"Because diamonds are some of the hardest, most robust material on Earth, they are perfect little time capsules and have the capacity to tell us what processes were occurring extremely early in Earth's history," Dr. Katie Smart, lead author of the study from Wits University, said in a news release.

The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, the geochemical analysis of some of the oldest known rocks indicate that plate tectonics began 3.8 to 3 billion years ago.

The researchers of the study believe that the ancient diamonds Witwatersrand diamonds are older than 3 billion years and they may hold the clues from the primeval Earth. The team analyzed the trapped nitrogen inside the diamonds, which indicated that nitrogen did not come from the Earth's mantle. The nitrogen was transported from the surface into the upper mantle through plate tectonics.

"We are not the first research group to study diamonds in order to tell when plate tectonics began, but our study of confirmed Archaean diamonds has suggested that plate tectonics was in operation by at least 3.5 billion years," Smart said.

The findings of this study were published in Nature Geoscience.

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