World’s Oldest Rubies Are Linked To Ancient Life

At the University of Waterloo, researchers have discovered extremely ancient carbon residue in the world’s oldest ruby, some 2.5 billion-year-old. The study concluded that some of the world’s oldest rubies are linked to ancient life.

World's Oldest Rubies Are Linked To Ancient Life

Chris Yakymchuk (Prof. of Earth and Environmental Sciences), at University of Waterloo, is leading a research team to conduct a study to understand the conditions necessary for ruby formation.

Yakymchuk’s team found a ruby sample from Greenland that contained a billion years old graphite.

“The graphite inside this ruby is really unique. It’s the first time we’ve seen evidence of ancient life in ruby-bearing rocks,” says Yakymchuk.

“The presence of graphite also gives us more clues to determine how rubies formed at this location, something that is impossible to do directly based on a ruby’s color and chemical composition.”

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The researchers analysed the isotopic composition of carbon atoms in the graphite and found that more than 98% of the carbon atoms had a mass of 12 atomic mass units, but a few carbon atoms were heavier as well, with a mass of 13 or 14 atomic mass units.

“Living matter preferentially consists of the lighter carbon atoms because they take less energy to incorporate into cells,” said Yakymchuk.

“Based on the increased amount of carbon-12 in this graphite, we concluded that the carbon atoms were once ancient life, most likely dead microorganisms such as cyanobacteria.”

As per the study conducted by Yakymchuk’s team, the presence of graphite really played a great role in the existence of ruby.

It is because of the graphite that changed the chemistry of surrounding rocks and made the environment favourable for the growth of ruby.

The study, Corundum (ruby) growth during the final assembly of the Archean North Atlantic Craton, southern West Greenland, was recently published in Ore Geology Reviews.

A companion study, The corundum conundrum: Constraining the compositions of fluids involved in ruby formation in metamorphic melanges of ultramafic and aluminous rocks, was published in the journal Chemical Geology in June.

More information: Chris Yakymchuk et al, Corundum (ruby) growth during the final assembly of the Archean North Atlantic Craton, southern West Greenland, Ore Geology Reviews (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.oregeorev.2021.104417

Vincent van Hinsberg et al, The corundum conundrum: Constraining the compositions of fluids involved in ruby formation in metamorphic melanges of ultramafic and aluminous rocks, Chemical Geology (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2021.120180

Journal information: Chemical Geology 

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