For the last 25 years, GSWA has been documenting key sites in the eastern Pilbara that are believed to contain evidence of some of the oldest known fossils. GSWA has organized numerous international excursions to the Pilbara so geologists, paleobiologists, and astrobiologists can examine the evidence for early life. The sites have also featured in many popular science articles and in the media.
Astrobiologists are particularly interested in these localities because of the search for life on Mars. Earth and Mars probably shared similar early histories and recent exploration has uncovered plenty of evidence that Mars once had environments suitable for stromatolite growth. If stromatolite-like structures are found on Mars, the Pilbara localities will provide significant analogues for comparison with potential Martian fossils.
- The oldest known structures considered to be stromatolites are at the Buick Reserve, near the old North Pole mining area.
- The slightly younger Trendall Reserve, a little further south, discovered in 1984 by Dr Alec Trendall, a former Director of GSWA, contains some of the most convincing evidence for ancient stromatolites, including large conical stromatolites (up to 1m high), smaller cones resembling egg-cartons, and domes that develop into branching columns.
- Six of the most significant stromatolite and microfossil localities (known as Buick, Awramik, Lowe, Schopf, Trendall, and Hickman after their discoverers) have recently been declared as Geoheritage Reserves to protect vital field evidence. Visitors need permission to carry out activities in Geoheritage Reserves (Grey et al., 2010).
- A more accessible locality (60 km south of Marble Bar and 1 km west of the Marble Bar–Nullagine road), the ‘Dawn of Life Trail, has been discovered by GSWA geologists. At this locality, members of the public can see fossils similar to those at remote scientific sites (Van Kranendonk and Johnston, 2010).
- Please protect these sites and do not remove material – they are part of Western Australia’s heritage.