The evidence for macroscopic life during the Palaeoproterozoic era (2.5-1.6 Gyr ago) is controversial(1-5). Except for the nearly 2-Gyr-old coil-shaped fossil Grypania spiralis(6,7), which may have been eukaryotic, evidence for morphological and taxonomic bio-diversification of macroorganisms only occurs towards the beginning of the Mesoproterozoic era (1.6-1.0 Gyr)(8). Here we report the discovery of centimetre-sized structures from the 2.1-Gyr-old black shales of the Palaeoproterozoic Francevillian B Formation in Gabon, which we interpret as highly organized and spatially discrete populations of colonial organisms. The structures are up to 12 cm in size and have characteristic shapes, with a simple but distinct ground pattern of flexible sheets and, usually, a permeating radial fabric. Geochemical analyses suggest that the sediments were deposited under an oxygenated water column. Carbon and sulphur isotopic data indicate that the structures were distinct biogenic objects, fossilized by pyritization early in the formation of the rock. The growth patterns deduced from the fossil morphologies suggest that the organisms showed cell-to-cell signalling and coordinated responses, as is commonly associated with multicellular organization(9). The Gabon fossils, occurring after the 2.45-2.32-Gyr increase in atmospheric oxygen concentration(10), may be seen as ancient representatives of multicellular life, which expanded so rapidly 1.5 Gyr later, in the Cambrian explosion.
2010. Vol. 466, no 7302, 100-104 p.