Metamorphism of Witwatersrand Gold

Exploration & Mining Geology, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1994

H.E. FRIMMEL, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Most of the gold in the Late Archean Witwatersrand Basin is of detrital origin but, in its present form, it is metamorphosed. The only relict detrital features preserved are the morphological characteristics of some placer gold particles. Regional burial metamorphism in the shallower and deeper levels of the Witwatersrand Supergroup reached temperatures around 300°C and 350°C at pressures between 2 kbar and 3 kbar, respectively, estimated from phase relations, chlorite-chloritoid exchange thermometry and chlorite thermometry. Metamorphism of the gold involved compositional homogenization of individual gold particles and partial recrystallization. Various infiltration events caused the partial mobilization of the gold at slightly lower temperatures, between 240°C and 300° C. These infiltrations can be related to crustal extension during the deposition of massive carbonate sequences of the Transvaal Supergroup (around 2.5 Ga), and later to the emplacement of the Bushveld Complex, and to the Vredefort event around 2.0 Ga ago. The mobility of the gold was dependent on the sulfur fugacity prevailing in a particular horizon which, in turn, was determined by the amount of pyrite (and other sulfides) present in that horizon. With the sulfur fugacity being controlled by stratigraphy, low fluid:rock ratios in a pyrite-rich horizon were most conducive for the mobilization of the gold. Thus, long-range gold mobilization in the Witwatersrand Basin can be expected to be the exception rather than the rule.