In both Bacteria and Eukaryotes, degradation is known to start at the 5' and at the 3' extremities of mRNAs. Until the recent discovery of 5'-to-3' exoribonucleases in hyperthermophilic Euryarchaeota, the exosome was assumed to be the key enzyme in mRNA degradation in Archaea. By means of zymogram assays and bioinformatics, we have identified a 5'-to-3' exoribonuclease activity in the crenarchaeum Sulfolobus solfataricus (Sso), which is affected by the phosphorylation state of the 5'-end of the mRNA. The protein comprises typical signature motifs of the β-CASP family of metallo-β-lactamases and was termed Sso-RNAse J. Thus, our study provides the first evidence for a 5'-to-3' directional mRNA decay pathway in the crenarchaeal clade of Archaea. In Bacteria the 5'-end of mRNAs is often protected by a tri-phosphorylated 5'-terminus and/or by stem-loop structures, while in Eukaryotes the cap-binding complex is responsible for this task. Here, we show that binding of translation initiation factor a/eIF2(γ) to the 5'-end of mRNA counteracts the 5'-to-3' exoribonucleolytic activity of Sso-RNase J in vitro. Hence, 5'-to-3' directional decay and 5'-end protection appear to be conserved features of mRNA turnover in all kingdoms of life.