The Archean is a geologic eon; it is a somewhat antiquated term for the time span between 2500 million years before the present and 3800 million years before the present. The Archean period follows the Hadean eon and is followed by the Paleoproterozoic eon. Although a few pebbles are known that are older, the oldest rock formations exposed on the surface of the Earth are Archean or slightly older. Archean rocks are known from Greenland, the Canadian Shield, northwest Australia, and southern Africa.
The Archean atmosphere apparently lacked free oxygen. Temperatures appear to have been near modern levels, although astronomers think that the sun was about one-third dimmer. This is thought to reflect larger amounts of greenhouse gases than later in the Earth's history.
Probable remains of bacterial mats (stromatolites) are found throughout the Archean, and a few probable bacterial fossils are known from chert beds. It is thought that life was present throughout the Archean, but was probably confined to simple non-nucleated single-celled organisms, called prokaryotes.
While estimates carry large margins of uncertainty, at least 50% is thought to have formed during the Archaean and most of the rest during the subsequent Proterozoic, by upwelling of hot, liquid rock from the mantle.
Characteristic rocks of the period are early Archaeangneisses, granite-greenstone belts, and the sediments that accumulated on late Archaean platforms around the craton margins.
Throughout the Archaean they were strongly affected by episodes of intense metamorphism and deformation, associated with inter-craton collisions and the rise of granite domes.
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