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Fossilized soil holds first land grabbers.
Jens Gutzmer and Nicolas J. Beukes were seeing red: pebbles of rust-colored hematite, an iron-rich mineral scattered throughout the two-billion-year-old South African dirt. But as they looked a little closer, they noticed that the topmost soil appeared bleached and rust-free. And that's when the two knew that they had probably found the earliest evidence of life on land.
"We knew where to look for ancient soil, but we didn't expect to find what we found," says Gutzmer, a geologist at Rand Afrikaans University in South Africa. The bleached patches looked like the iron and rust had drained away, and one thing that can …