Bright pink was the first color on Earth, according to a new study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This new discovery comes from scientists at Australian National University, who made the finding by crushing 1 billion-year-old rock uncovered in a marine shale deposit beneath the Sahara desert. From there, researchers took the powder and used it to analyze the molecules of ancient microscopic organisms that existed long before multi-celled animals walked the Earth.
The bright pink pigments — which were over 500 million years older than any other previous color discoveries — came from chlorophyll produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms that once inhabited ancient oceans.
Researchers first came into contact with the rocks after an oil company unearthed them during a dig roughly 10 years ago. Though the team expected to find something of interest, they did not think it would come in the form of a bright pink shade.
This finding is exciting, not just from a biological standpoint, but because it helps shed light on why large, complex creatures appeared so late in the Earth’s history. Our planet is roughly 4.6 billion years old, but larger, more complex animal-like organisms did not come around until about 600 million years ago.
This new study shows that tiny cyanobacteria generated the pink molecules, suggesting they dominated the Earth at that time. That then suggests larger animals did not exist early in Earth’s history because there was simply no food source for them at the time. That gives new insight into the planet’s evolution and paints a better picture of why certain animals appear in the fossil record when they do.