There is a lot of controversy in the origin and early evolution of life field, but most people agree that at the advent of genetically coded protein synthesis, cells must have had access to ribonucleotides, amino acids, lipids and some sort of energy source. However, the provenance of these materials is a contentious issue — did early life obtain its building blocks prefabricated from the environment, or did it synthesise them from feedstocks such as CO 2 and N 2 ? In the first case, synthesis conditions need not have been compatible with life and any kind of reaction network that furnished the building blocks — and not much else — could have provisioned the subsequent origin and early evolution of life. In the second case, synthesis must have been under life-compatible conditions, with the reaction network either along the same lines as extant biology or along different ones. On the basis of experimental evidence, we will argue in favour of prefabrication and against synthesis by life in its nascent state, especially synthesis that resembles extant biosynthesis, which we suggest would have been well-nigh impossible without biological catalysts.