Fossil mimics may be more common in ancient rocks than actual fossils

When it comes to finding fossils of very ancient microbial life — whether on Earth or on other worlds, such as Mars — the odds are just not in our favor.

Actual microbial life-forms are much less likely to become safely fossilized in rocks compared with nonbiological structures that happen to mimic their shapes, new research finds. The finding suggests that Earth’s earliest rocks may contain abundant tiny fakers — minuscule objects masquerading as fossilized evidence of early life — researchers report online January 28 in Geology.

The finding is “at the very least a cautionary tale,” says study author Julie Cosmidis, a geomicrobiologist at the University of Oxford.

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