The sparse Archean fossil record is based almost entirely on carbonaceous remnants of microorganisms cellularly preserved due to their early post-mortem silicification. Hitherto as an exception, sedimentary
carbonate rocks from the Neoarchean Nauga Formation of South Africa contain calcified microbial mats composed of microbiota closely resembling modern benthic colonial cyanobacteria (Chroococcales and Pleurocapsales). Their remains, visible under the scanning electron microscope (SEM) after etching of polished rock samples, comprise capsular envelopes, mucilage sheaths, and groups of cells mineralized by calcium carbonate with an admixture of Al–K–Mg–Fe silicates. The capsular organization of the mucilaginous sheaths surrounding individual cells and cell clusters forming colonies and the mode
of mineralization are the characteristic common features of the Neoarchean microbiota described and their modern analogues. The new findings indicate massive production of calcium carbonates by benthic coccoid cyanobacteria in the Neoarchean, and offer a solution to the problem of the origin of Archean
carbonate platforms, stromatolites and microbial reefs.