For the first time, evidence of ancient life is discovered in a Ruby: Traces are found inside a 2.5 billion-year old gemstone from Greenland.

  • Scientists analysed a ruby sample taken from Greenland’s North Atlantic Craton 
  • The sample is a remnant from early Earth life, according to an analysis of carbon in it
  • Experts claim that it is the first evidence of ancient life in rocks containing ruby-bearing rubies.

A new study claims that evidence of ancient life was found in a ruby. 

Canadian researchers claim they have discovered carbon residue from ancient life that is encased within a 2.5 billion-year old ruby.

At this time in Earth’s history, oxygen wasn’t abundant in the atmosphere and life existed only in microorganisms. 

The ancient gemstone, described by the author as “really unique”, was taken from the North Atlantic Craton section that covers southern Greenland. 

The North Atlantic Craton is an ancient part of Earth’s continental crust that reaches around the top of the northern hemisphere, from Scotland to the Canadian region of Labrador, deep underground. 

Scientists at the University of Waterloo have discovered traces of ancient life inside a 2.5 billion-year-old ruby (pictured)

Scientists from the University of Waterloo found evidence of ancient life in a 2.5-billion-year-old ruby (pictured).

The rock is from the North Atlantic Craton - an ancient part of the Earth's continental crust, now deep underground, that stretches from the southern tip of Baffin Island to the very north of Scotland

The rock is part of the North Atlantic Craton, an old part of the Earth’s continental crust that extends from the southern tip to Baffin Island to very north of Scotland.

Chris Yakymchuk (University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) led the research.


Ruby is a gemstone with a range of pink to red colours.

It is a variation of the mineral corundum, which gives it its colour.  

The Latin word ruber’ means’red’ and is the source of the word ‘ruby.

Fine-quality rubies can fetch over $1 million per ounce and are one of the most valuable gemstones. 

Source: International Gem Society 

Greenland is home to some of the oldest known rubies deposits in the world. This particular sample contained graphite which is a mineral made from pure carbon. 

Yakymchuk said that the graphite found in this ruby is truly unique. It is the first time that we have ever seen evidence of ancient life in rocks containing ruby-bearing rubies. 

“The presence of graphite gives us more clues about how rubies formed at this site, something that is impossible based solely on a ruby’s colour and chemical makeup.  

The corundum family of gemstones includes rubies. The trace element responsible for ruby’s red color is chromium. It can range from an orangy to a purplish hue. 

The Gemological Institute of America explains how chromium affects the strength of ruby’s red colour. The stronger the red colour, the more chromium is present. 

The presence graphite in the sample allowed researchers to analyse the isotopic content of the carbon-atoms. This determines the relative amounts. 

More than 98% of all carbon atoms have a 12 atomic mass unit mass. However, a few carbon-atoms are heavier with a 13 or 14 atomic weight units mass.

Image of the sample on a 1mm scale. Rutile is an oxide mineral composed primarily of titanium dioxide

Image of the sample taken at 1mm scale. Rutile is an oxide minerals made mainly of titanium dioxide.

Graphical abstract from the team's research paper shows the presence of the graphite, a mineral made of pure carbon

Graphical abstract from the team’s research paper shows the presence of the graphite, a mineral made of pure carbon

Yakymchuk stated that living matter prefers lighter carbon atoms as they require less energy to integrate into cells. 

“Based on the higher amount of carbon-12 found in graphite, it was concluded that the carbon atoms were once part of ancient life. This is most likely dead microorganisms like cyanobacteria.  

Cyanobacteria, a photosynthesizing strain of bacteria, can produce cyanotoxins which can cause illness in animals. They are also known as blue-green algae and form mats on the water’s surface.  

Yakymchuk’s research team discovered that graphite was not only necessary for the existence of this ruby, but also links it to ancient life. 

The graphite changed chemistry in the surrounding rocks to make ruby growth possible. 

The team’s models proved that it was impossible to form rubies at this location without it.

The study has been published by Ore Geology Reviews.   


Diamond-encrusted rock samples found on a Canadian island fill ‘a piece in the puzzle’ to reconstruct an ancient part of Earth’s continental crust, researchers reported in 2020. 

Geologists were looking through samples of diamond exploration from southern Baffin Island, Canada when they found a fragment of the North Atlantic Craton.

The NAC is an ancient part of Earth’s continental crust that reaches around the top of the northern hemisphere, from Scotland to the Canadian region of Labrador, deep underground.

Researchers believe the NAC is up to 2.7 billion years old before its continental plate broke up around 150 million years ago.

Peregrine Diamonds was Canada’s mineral exploration company that provided the samples. De Beers bought it in 2018. 

Continue reading: Geologists discover fragments of an ‘ancient continent’ that contain diamond-bearing rocks