Pilbara rock shines in London exhibition

The ancient Pilbara rock

A 2.6 billion-year-old rock has travelled almost 14,000km from Western Australia’s Pilbara region to London to feature in an exhibition at the Natural History Museum (NHM).

The colourfully layered 2.5-tonne rock, a piece of banded iron formation (BIF), was chosen by the NHM as part of an exhibition to celebrate “the wonder and beauty of the natural world, from the origins of the universe, to the story of evolution and diversity in the world today.”

BIFs were formed more than three billion years ago when bacteria in our planet’s young oceans began to produce oxygen through photosynthesis.

This oxygen combined with dissolved iron in the sea to form insoluble iron oxide, which separated out of the water and sank to the seafloor.

As it settled, bands of red and grey iron-oxide developed between layers of silica-rich sediment.

Without this process, there may never have been an oxygenated ocean to support the eventual evolution of more complex life on Earth.

Sourced from Rio Tinto’s Mount Tom Price mine and selected with the assistance of Traditional Owners, the Eastern Guruma people, the rock was diamond-cut to shape before being shipped to London.

Rio Tinto growth & innovation executive Stephen McIntosh said the company was proud to have been involved with the Eastern Guruma people in donating a piece of such significance to the NHM.

“The BIF provides an important geological marker for when the first oxygen-generating life formed in the oceans, and helps us to understand how the world we know today evolved,” McIntosh said.

“Iron ore has been at the centre of the Earth’s development for billions of years and human development for thousands of years. From the iron age to today’s steel age it has been essential to human progress.”

The rock will form part of the NHM’s refurbished Hintze Hall display.