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Morphological preservation of carbonaceous plant fossils in blueschist metamorphic rocks from New Zealand


Corresponding author. M. E. Galvez. Tel.: 0144272560; fax: 0144273785; e-mail:,


Morphological and chemical evidence of ancient life is widespread in sedimentary rocks retrieved from shallow depths in the Earth’s crust. Metamorphism is highly detrimental to the preservation of biological information in rocks, thus limiting the geological record in which traces of life might be found. Deformation and increasing pressure/temperature during deep burial may alter the morphology as well as the composition and structure of both the organic and mineral constituents of fossils. However, microspore fossils have been previously observed in intensely metamorphosed rocks. It has been suggested that their small size, and/or the nature of the polymer composing their wall, and/or the mineralogy of their surrounding matrix were key parameters explaining their exceptional preservation. Here, we describe the remarkable morphological preservation of plant macrofossils in blueschist metamorphic rocks from New Zealand containing lawsonite. Leaves and stems can be easily identified at the macroscale. At the microscale, polygonal structures with walls mineralized by micas within the leaf midribs and blades may derive from the original cellular ultrastructure or, alternatively, from the shrinkage during burial of the gelified remnants of the leaves in an abiotic process. Processes and important parameters involved in the remarkable preservation of these fossils during metamorphism are discussed. Despite the excellent morphological preservation, the initial biological polymers have been completely transformed to graphitic carbonaceous matter down to the nanometer scale. This occurrence demonstrates that plant macrofossils may experience major geodynamic processes such as metamorphism and exhumation involving deep changes and homogenization of their carbon chemistry and structure but still retain their morphology with remarkable integrity even if they are not shielded by any hard-mineralized concretion.