Active deep-sea hydrothermal vents are areas of intense mixing and severe thermal and chemical gradients, fostering a biotope rich in novel hyperthermophilic microorganisms and metabolic pathways. The goal of this study was to identify the earliest archaeal colonizers of nascent hydrothermal chimneys, organisms that may be previously uncharacterized as they are quickly replaced by a more stable climax community. During expeditions in 2001 and 2002 to the hydrothermal vents of the East Pacific Rise (EPR) (9°50′N, 104°17′W), we removed actively venting chimneys and in their place deployed mineral chambers and sampling units that promoted the growth of new, natural hydrothermal chimneys and allowed their collection within hours of formation. These samples were compared with those collected from established hydrothermal chimneys from EPR and Guaymas Basin vent sites. Using molecular and phylogenetic analysis of the 16S rDNA, we show here that at high temperatures, early colonization of a natural chimney is dominated by members of the archaeal genus Ignicoccus and its symbiont, Nanoarchaeum. We have identified 19 unique sequences closely related to the nanoarchaeal group, and five archaeal sequences that group closely with Ignicoccus. These organisms were found to colonize a natural, high temperature protochimney and vent-like mineral assemblages deployed over high temperature outflows within 92 h. When compared phylogenetically, several of these colonizing organisms form a unique clade independent of those found in mature chimneys and low-temperature mineral chamber samples. As a model ecosystem, the identification of pioneering consortia in deep-sea hydrothermal vents may help advance the understanding of how early microbial life forms gained a foothold in hydrothermal systems on early Earth and potentially on other planetary bodies.