An atmospheric source of S in Mesoarchaean structurally-controlled gold mineralisation of the Barberton Greenstone Belt
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The Barberton Greenstone Belt of southern Africa hosts several Mesoarchaean gold deposits. The ores were mostly formed in greenschist facies conditions, and occur as hydrothermal alteration zones around extensional faults that truncate and post-date the main compressional structures of the greenstone belt. Ore deposition was accompanied by the intrusion of porphyries, which has led to the hypothesis that gold may have been sourced from magmas. Because the transport of Au in the hydrothermal fluids is widely believed to have involved S complexes, tracing the origin of S may place strong constraints on the origin of Au. We measured multiple S isotopes in sulfide ore from Sheba and Fairview mines of the Barberton Greenstone Belt to distinguish “deep” S sources (e.g. magmas) from “surface” S sources (i.e. rocks of the volcano-sedimentary succession that contain S processed in the atmosphere preserved as sulfide and sulfate minerals). Ion probe (SIMS) analyses of pyrite from ore zones indicate mass-independent fractionation of S isotopes (Δ33S = −0.6‰ to +1.0‰) and the distribution of the analyses in the Δ33S–δ34S space matches the distribution peak of previously published analyses of pyrite from the entire volcano-sedimentary succession. Notwithstanding that the H2O–CO2 components of the fluids may have been introduced from a deep source external to the greenstone belt rocks, the fact that S bears an atmospheric signature suggests the hypothesis that the source of Au should also be identified in the supracrustal succession of the greenstone belt. Our findings differ from conclusions of previous studies of other Archaean shear-hosted Au deposits based on mineralogical and isotopic evidence, which suggested a magmatic or mantle source for Au, and imply that there is no single model that can be applied to this type of mineralisation in the Archaean.
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