Scientists Have Discovered Ancient Color Pigment Inside A Fossilized Rock That Is 1.1 Billion Years Old

The vivid pink hue was created by fossilized chlorophyll in the Taoudeni Basin in West Africa and beats the previous record of an ancient color pigment by 600 million years.

The oldest color pigment has been found inside a 1.1-billion-year-old fossilized rock.
Matt Cardy / Getty Images

The vivid pink hue was created by fossilized chlorophyll in the Taoudeni Basin in West Africa and beats the previous record of an ancient color pigment by 600 million years.

Scientists have made the startling discovery of fossilized chlorophyll that is the most ancient color pigment ever to be found inside of a rock, shattering the previous record by more than 600 million years. The color of this particular pigment? A dazzling pink.

As Science Alert reports, this discovery is proof of photosynthesis 1.1 billion years ago, yet more more exciting than that was the revelation that the pigment was created by bacteria, which might explain why when it comes to evolution animals took as long as they did to appear on the scene.

The fossilized chlorophyll was found hidden inside marine black shales by a team of researchers who were investigating an area of Mauritania, West Africa, that is known as the Taoudeni Basin. And while the color itself was a brilliant shade of pink, the life that created it would almost certainly have been even more vivid.

Back in the 1960s there were other discoveries that were similar in nature that have now been summarily dismissed, but in 1993 scientists did find some shale deposits that had color created out of porphyrins which were dated to roughly half a billion years ago, which, while extremely old, is still much younger than the fossilized chlorophyll that was recently found in West Africa.

When you think about chlorophyll you may automatically assume it to be green, yet the blocks that create it can come in bold purples and reds, explaining the discovery of the 1.1-billion-year-old pink pigment.

Nur Gueneli of the Australian National University was the lead author for the new study on the ancient fossilized chlorophyll that was recently found, and explained that his team’s discovery show that cyanobacteria was the dominant force in the Earth’s seas at this point in time.

“The precise analysis of the ancient pigments confirmed that tiny cyanobacteria dominated the base of the food chain in the oceans a billion years ago.”

And it wasn’t just cyanobacteria that thrived in the ocean as recent studies have confirmed that sulfur bacteria also dwelt happily beside it. The ANU’s Jochen Brocks noted that around 650 million years ago, these oceans that were so rich with cyanobacteria started to disappear amid the swift rise of algae.

“Algae, although still microscopic, are a thousand times larger in volume than cyanobacteria, and are a much richer food source. The cyanobacterial oceans started to vanish about 650 million years ago, when algae began to rapidly spread to provide the burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth.”

The new study on the discovery of the 1.1-billion-year-old color pigment from fossilized chlorophyll has been published in PNAS.