The Hadean to Eoarchean Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt


View (looking South) from the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt. Outcropping rocks are believed to be as old as 4.3 billion-years-old. (Jonathan O’Neil).

Geological Period

Hadean / Eoarchean (4.3 – 3.8 Ga)

Main geological interest

Igneous and metamorphic petrology


Nunavik, Quebec, Canada.
58°17’31.0″N, 77°43’53.0″W

View (looking South) from the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt. Outcropping rocks are believed to be as old as 4.3 billion-years-old. (Jonathan O’Neil).

Some of the oldest, if not the oldest rocks on Earth, with potentially earliest traces of life.

With a likely age of 4.3 billion years old (O’Neil et al., 2008), the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt may represent the only known rocks formed within the Hadean eon. This remnant of ancient oceanic crust offers a unique window into Earth’s earliest times. It can help to shed light on important and broad scientific questions ranging from understanding how Earth’s first crust formed, elucidating early tectonic regimes, to establishing the geological environments (early atmosphere, presence of liquid water, temperature of the earliest oceans, etc.) where early life could have arisen on Earth.

Close-up view of the mafic volcanic rocks dated at 4.3 billion-years-old. Metamorphic mineral assemblage mainly consists of cummingtonite-plagioclase-biotite-garnet-quartz. Location shown on the map. (Jonathan O’Neil).

The Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt is a volcano-sedimentary sequence located in northeastern Canada, mostly composed of metamorphosed mafic volcanic rocks and chemical sedimentary rocks such as banded iron formation (O’Neil et al., 2019). The Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt includes some of the oldest, if not the oldest rocks, preserved on our planet. The exact age of the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt has been debated in the scientific community (Cates et al., 2013; O’Neil et al., 2019), but it is at least 3.75 billion-years-old (Cates and Mojzsis, 2007). However, variation in the isotope tracer 142Nd measured in the dominant volcanic rocks supports an age of 4.3 billion-yearsold, making them the oldest rocks known on Earth (O’Neil et al., 2008). The petrology and geochemistry of the Nuvvuagittuq rocks suggest it represents a remnant of hydrothermally altered oceanic crust, perhaps formed in short-lived subduction-like settings (O’Neil et al., 2019). This would represent the earliest evidence on Earth of a geodynamic regime resembling modern-day plate tectonic. The Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt includes jasper-bearing banded iron formations displaying micrometer-scale hematite tubes and filaments with morphologies and mineral assemblages consistent with formation via biological activity (Dodd et al., 2017). This would constitute the earliest evidence of life on Earth.

The Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt became a region of interest for research after 3.8 billion-years-old rocks were discovered (Simard et al., 2003). O’Neil et al. (2008) later proposed that it included 4.3 billion-yearsold rocks, representing the oldest rocks on Earth. It has since been the object of multiple scientific publications.

Simplified geological map of the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt. Location in Canada is shown by the yellow star. Red star shows the location of the photo above.

Cates, N.L. et al. (2013) ‘Reduced, reused and recycled: Detrital zircons define a maximum age for the Eoarchean (ca. 3750–3780Ma) Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt, Québec (Canada)’, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 362, pp. 283–293. Available at:

Cates, N.L. and Mojzsis, S.J. (2007) ‘Pre-3750 Ma supracrustal rocks from the Nuvvuagittuq supracrustal belt, northern Québec’, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 255(1), pp. 9–21. Available at:

Dodd, M.S. et al. (2017) ‘Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates’, Nature, 543(7643), pp. 60–64. Available at:

O’Neil, J. et al. (2008) ‘Neodymium-142 Evidence for Hadean Mafic Crust’, Science, 321(5897), pp. 1828–1831. Available at:

O’Neil, J. et al. (2019) ‘The Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt: A Glimpse of Earth’s Earliest Crust’, in M. Van Kranendonk, V. Bennett, and E. Hoffmann (eds) Earth’s Oldest Rocks. Van Kranendonk, M and Bennett, V and Hoffmann, E. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier, pp. 349–374. Available at:

Simard, M. et al. (2003) Géologie de la région de la rivière d’Innuksuac (34K and34L). Quebec: Ministère des Ressources Naturelles.

Pierre Verpaelst
Charlevoix Aspiring Geopark, Canadian Geoparks Network, Québec, Canada

Jonathan O’Neil
Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Centre, department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Ottawa, Canada