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Major types and time–space distribution of Mesozoic ore deposits in South China and their geodynamic settings


The ore deposits of the Mesozoic age in South China can be divided into three groups, each with different metal associations and spatial distributions and each related to major magmatic events. The first event occurred in the Late Triassic (230–210 Ma), the second in the Mid–Late Jurassic (170–150 Ma), and the third in the Early–Mid Cretaceous (120–80 Ma). The Late Triassic magmatic event and associated mineralization is characterized by peraluminous granite-related W–Sn–Nb–Ta mineral deposits. The Triassic ore deposits are considerably disturbed or overprinted by the later Jurassic and Cretaceous tectono-thermal episodes. The Mid–Late Jurassic magmatic and mineralization events consist of 170–160 Ma porphyry–skarn Cu and Pb–Zn–Ag vein deposits associated with I-type granites and 160–150 Ma metaluminous granite-related polymetallic W–Sn deposits. The Late Jurassic metaluminous granite-related W–Sn deposits occur in a NE-trending cluster in the interior of South China, such as in the Nanling area. In the Early–Mid Cretaceous, from about 120 to 80 Ma, but peaking at 100–90 Ma, subvolcanic-related Fe deposits developed and I-type calc-alkaline granitic intrusions formed porphyry Cu–Mo and porphyry-epithermal Cu–Au–Ag mineral systems, whereas S-type peraluminous and/or metaluminous granitic intrusions formed polymetallic Sn deposits. These Cretaceous mineral deposits cluster in distinct areas and are controlled by pull-apart basins along the South China continental margin. Based on mineral assemblage, age, and space–time distribution of these mineral systems, integrated with regional geological data and field observations, we suggest that the three magmatic–mineralization episodes are the result of distinct geodynamic regimes. The Triassic peraluminous granites and associated W–Sn–Nb–Ta mineralization formed during post-collisional processes involving the South China Block, the North China Craton, and the Indo-China Block, mostly along the Dabie-Sulu and Songma sutures. Jurassic events were initially related to the shallow oblique subduction of the Izanagi plate beneath the Eurasian continent at about 175 Ma, but I-type granitoids with porphyry Cu and vein-type Pb–Zn–Ag deposits only began to form as a result of the breakup of the subducted plate at 170–160 Ma, along the NNE-trending Qinzhou-Hangzhou belt (also referred to as Qin-Hang or Shi-Hang belt), which is the Neoproterozoic suture that amalgamates the Yangtze Craton and Cathaysia Block. A large subduction slab window is assumed to have formed in the Nanling and adjacent areas in the interior of South China, triggering the uprise of asthenospheric mantle into the upper crust and leading to the emplacement of metaluminous granitic magma and associated polymetallic W–Sn mineralization. A relatively tectonically quiet period followed between 150 and 135 Ma in South China. From 135 Ma onward, the angle of convergence of the Izanagi plate changed from oblique to parallel to the coastline, resulting in continental extensional tectonics and reactivation of regional-scale NE-trending faults, such as the Tan-Lu fault. This widespread extension also promoted the development of NE-trending pull-apart basins and metamorphic core complexes, accompanied by volcanism and the formation of epithermal Cu–Au deposits, granite-related polymetallic Sn–(W) deposits and hydrothermal U deposits between 120 and 80 Ma (with a peak activity at 100–90 Ma).


South China is a world-class W–Sn province, with not only major granite-related Sn, W, and Sb deposits, but also porphyry Cu–Mo, vein-type Pb–Zn–Ag, and epithermal Au–Ag–(Cu) deposits. The earliest field investigations were carried out by Hsu (1943) who reported on the wolframite–quartz vein deposits in South Jiangxi Province, in the eastern part of the Nanling region, to the international community. It was also Hsu (1943) who recognized scheelite in the Yaogangxian tungsten deposit, South Hunan Province, in the middle of the last century, later recognized as the first skarn-type W deposit in China (Hua 2003). Tin deposits have a long history of mining in the Gejiu district (Yunnan Province), where the largest polymetallic tin deposit in the world occurs and where tin was mined since the time of the Han Dynasty (ca. 2,000 years before present) (Cheng and Mao 2010). After 1949, detailed geological and geochemical surveys at scales of 1:200,000 and 1:50,000 were performed and a large group of polymetallic tin deposits was discovered, explored, and eventually mined. Several major ore deposits were rediscovered by tracing the ancient mining relics. Although there are dozens of ore deposits in South China explored and mined before 2000, several large-scale and world-class Sn and W deposits, such as the Furong tin deposit and the Xitian tin deposit in South Hunan Province and the Heshantian tungsten deposit in northern Guangdong Province were only discovered recently (Mao et al. 2004a; Ma et al. 2005).

As one of the most important metallogenic provinces, South China has been the focus of research for many years. However, most of these results are published in Chinese. Only a few case studies on some world-class deposits are reported in international journals, such as Shizhuyuan skarn–greisen W–Sn–Mo–Bi deposits (Mao and Li 1995, 1996; Mao et al. 1996; Lu et al. 2003), Zijinshan high-sulfidation Au–Cu deposit (So et al. 1998), Limu Nb–Ta–W–Sn deposit (Zhu et al. 2001a, b), Dachang polymetallic tin deposit (Cai et al. 2007), Dexing porphyry Cu–Mo, Yinshan Ag–Pb–Zn and Jinshan shear zone-hosted Au deposits (Zhang et al. 2007a, b; Li et al. 2010; Mao et al. 2011a), Zhilingtou Au deposit (Pirajno and Bagas 2002), Furong tin deposit (Mao et al. 2004a; Zhao et al. 2005; Li et al. 2007a, b, c), Hukeng wolframite–quartz vein deposit (Liu et al. 2011a, b), and Gejiu polymetallic tin deposit (Cheng et al. 2012a, b).

Although Zaw et al. (2007) published a paper entitled “Nature, diversity of deposit types and metallogenic relations of South China,” the South China defined in the paper is much larger than what we usually describe either from the geographic or geological standpoint. Traditionally, the South China metallogenic province comprises the domain of the Cathaysia Block previously defined and labeled as 1 in Fig. 1a and the southeastern margin of the Yangtze Craton (Fig. 1). Considering the historic reasons, we here still adopt the original concepts and tectonic classification.

Fig. 1

Distribution of major Mesozoic ore deposits in South China. The South China Block comprises the Cathaysia Block, the southwestern Yangtze Craton, and the Jiangnan Shield at the southern margin of the Yangtze Craton. The dotted line labeled 1 is the traditional boundary of the Yangtze Craton and the Cathaysia Block, as suggested by Huang (1945) and Ren (1989), while the new boundary labeled 2 is adopted in this paper, as given by Shui (1987), Yang et al. (2009b), and Pan et al. (2009). Due to the absence of precise age data for most Sb–Hg–Au deposits in the cluster of the lower-temperature deposits, only the Xikuangshan and Woxi mines are labeled

Besides the many Mesozoic W–Sn–Mo–Bi–Cu–Pb–Zn–Au–Ag ore deposits in South China, there are a few small-scale Mesoproterozoic to Neoproterozoic volcanic-hosted massive sulfide (VHMS) Cu–Zn deposits distributed along the easternmost part of the Qin-Hang Neoproterozoic suture (Wang and Zhao 1980; Huang 1992) and some Silurian–Ordovician granite-related skarn Sn–Cu (Qinjia), skarn W (Niutangjie, Shedong), and Mo deposits (Liusha) with an age range of 442–400 Ma (Wang et al. 2010; Li et al. 2009; Chen et al. 2011) which occur west of the Qin-Hang suture. In the western part of South China, there are many vein-type and breccia-type deposits of Sb and Hg, as well as MVT-type Pb–Zn and Carlin-like Au deposits. However, their ages of ore formation are still being argued, since no geochronological data are available at present. These are not discussed in the present contribution.

Based on extensive field investigations, integrated with Chinese published literature and recent exploration reports, in this paper, we endeavor to document the genetic types, major characteristics, space–time distribution of the Mesozoic mineralization in South China, and corresponding geodynamic processes.

Geological setting of South China

The South China Block is bordered by the North China Craton and the Qinling–Dabie orogenic belts in the north, the Three River orogenic belts in the west, and the Indosinia Block in the southwest. The South China Block consists of the Yangtze Craton in the northwest and the Cathaysia Block or South China Caledonian foldbelt in the southeast, separated by Precambrian basement units labeled as 1 in Fig. 1a (Huang 1945; Ren 1989) or by the Qinzhou-Hangzhou Neoproterozoic suture labeled as 2 in Fig. 1a, as suggested by Shui (1987), Yang et al. (2009a, b), and Pan et al. (2009). The basement of the Yangtze Craton consists of Archean to Proterozoic rocks exposed in the western region, including the Kongling, Kangding, and Dahongshan Groups (e.g., Ames et al. 1996; Qiu et al. 2000). Studies on xenocrystic zircons from Early Paleozoic lamproite diatremes have yielded 2.9–2.8 Ga U–Pb ages and 2.6–3.5 Ga Hf model ages (Zheng et al. 2006), suggesting that an Archean basement is possibly widely distributed in the Yangtze Craton. A large thickness of Proterozoic cover rocks developed in both the Jiangnan shield in the southeastern margin and the Kangdian shield in the western margin (Fig. 1a). The Proterozoic rocks comprising the Lower Sibao Group and Upper Banxi Group in the Jiangnan shield were precisely dated to be of Neoproterozoic age ranging from 864 to 820 Ma and from 820 to 780 Ma by sensitive high-resolution ion microprobe (SHRIMP) and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) zircon U–Pb methods obtained from volcanic rocks intercalated with the sedimentary rocks (Gao et al. 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012). These are overlain by the Nanhua Group metasedimentary rocks dated at 780–635 Ma and Sinian clastic and carbonate rocks intercalated with tillites dated at 635–550 Ma (Gao et al. 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012). Geng et al. (2008) and Zhou et al. (2011) dated the folded metamorphic rocks represented by the Hekou Group and Huili Group as 1,680–1,028 Ma and the metamorphosed rocks represented by the Kangding complex or Kangding Group, consisting of magmatic rocks, as 850–750 Ma at the Kangdian shield in the western margin of the Yangtze Craton (Fig. 1a). This area was later covered by Sinian clastic and carbonate rocks and carbonates intercalated with tillites.

The Cathaysia Block may have several separated Proterozoic basement units at Wuyishan in the east, Yunkaishan–Dayaoshan in the west, and Hainan Island in the south (e.g., Yuan et al. 1991; Chen and Jahn 1998; Li et al. 2006a, b, c; Xu et al. 2007). In light of 61 published precise ages, Shu et al. (2006) recognized three pulses of magmatism at 1.6, 1.6–1.0, and 1.0–0.8 Ga in the Cathaysia Block. Qin et al. (2006, 2007) obtained an Archean age of 2,702 ± 13 Ma by SHRIMP zircon dating for the granite gneiss from the Tiantang Group in the Yunkai–Dayaoshan basement, western Guangdong Province. According to the zircon U–Pb analysis for the gneiss from the northern Yunkai basement, Yu et al. (2007) proposed that there is a Neoarchean crystalline basement. Timing of the amalgamation between the Yangtze Craton and Cathaysia Block is considered at ~1.1 to 0.9 Ga (e.g., Shui 1987; Chen and Jahn 1998; Li et al. 2007a, b, c; Yang et al. 2009a, b). South Jiangxi represents another uplift composed of Neoproterozoic Sinian phyllite and Cambrian to Silurian metapelitic rocks.

Among the Jiangnan and Kangdian shields in both the southeastern and western margins of the Yangtze Craton and the Wuyi, Yunkai–Dayaoshan, and South Jiangxi uplifts in the Cathaysia Block, the extensive development of sequences of Devonian to Early Permian carbonate rocks indicates a relatively stable environment. Littoral Triassic carbonate and clastic rocks mainly occur in the western Yangtze Craton. The southeastern margin of the South China Block used to be considered as a passive margin until the Mesozoic when the Paleo-Pacific or Izanagi plate was subducted beneath the eastern flank of the South China Block (e.g., Hsu et al. 1990). Northwest-trending Mid–Late Jurassic thrust faults, nappes, and folds extensively developed in the southeastern coastal area up to several hundred kilometers inland. There are also some NE-trending linear Mid–Late Jurassic volcanic basins in the back-arc areas of the continent margin, for instance, the Dele basin in the southeastern margin of the Yangtze Craton, where the Dexing porphyry Cu deposit is located. Many Cretaceous basins with andesitic–dacitic volcanic rocks dated at 110–80 Ma and basins with red bed strata extend for about 1,000 km along the southeastern coast (Zhou et al. 2006).

Neoproterozoic granitoids were emplaced within both the Jiangnan and Kangdian shields with an age range of 864–746 Ma, which have been proposed to be linked with the Rodinia supercontinent breakup (Li 1999; Li et al. 1999, 2003a, b; Zhou et al. 2002). Caledonian (ca. 600–400 Ma) granitoids occur sparsely in the southern margin of the Jiangnan shield and the Yunkai–Dayaoshan and Wuyi uplifts within the Cathaysia Block. Vigorous magmatic activity occurred in southeastern China from the Permo-Triassic to Late Cretaceous in three episodes: Indosinian granitic rocks (265 to 205 Ma), Early Yanshanian granitic–volcanic rocks (180 to 142 Ma), and Late Yanshanian granitic–volcanic rocks (140 to 66 Ma) (Zhou et al. 2006). The granitic rocks include I-, S-, and A-types, and the A-type granites generally occur along regional and local fault zones in southeastern China. Most of the A-type granites were emplaced along the coastal region during the Late Yanshanian stage (ca. 100 Ma) (e.g., Wang et al. 2005). For example, the Kuiqi, Wushan, Jingangshan, and Xincun Cretaceous A-type granites in Fujian and the Yaokeng, Putuo, Taohuadao, and Qingtian A-type granites in Zhejiang were emplaced along the Changle-Nan’ao fault zone (e.g., Martin et al. 1994), and similarly, the distribution of the Zhaibei, Beitou, and Keshubei Middle Jurassic A-type granites is constrained by the Shannan-Xunwu fault in South Hunan and South Jiangxi provinces (e.g., Chen et al. 1999, 2002; Chen 2004). Basaltic rocks and rhyolites are locally associated with the A-type granites.

Time–space distribution of three major periods of Mesozoic mineralization

The major Mesozoic ore deposits in South China include a wide variety, comprising skarn (or skarn–greisen) W–Sn (Mo–Bi), quartz vein W–Sn, sulfide polymetallic Sn, porphyry Sn, porphyry–skarn Cu–Mo (±Fe, Au), vein-type Cu, quartz vein-type Pb–Zn–Ag, epithermal Pb–Zn–Ag, epithermal Cu–Au–Ag, granite-related Nb–Ta–W–Sn, and granite-related U deposits. The major ore deposits are shown in Fig. 1 and their basic characteristics are listed in Table 1.

Table 1 Major mesozoic mineral deposits in the South China Block

A large amount of precise geochronological techniques, including molybdenite Re–Os, 40Ar–39Ar on mica and K-feldspar, and SHRIMP and LA-ICP-MS U–Pb on zircon, has been applied to date granitic rocks and associated ore deposits in South China. The results neatly confirm three distinct episodes of mineralization and granite emplacement (Fig. 2a, b): (1) Late Triassic (230–210 Ma), (2) Mid–Late Jurassic (170–150 Ma), and (3) Cretaceous (134–80 Ma). The Cretaceous mineralization event lasted for about 54 million years, but with a peak of activity at 100–90 Ma.

Fig. 2

Histogram of ages of the Mesozoic ore deposits (b) and related granites (a) in South China (the sources of the age data in the plots are listed in Table 1)

Triassic Sn–W–Nb–Ta deposits

Mesozoic mineralization in South China began in the Triassic which was unknown for a long time. However, in the past several years, numerous Triassic ore deposits have been recognized, and they are sporadically distributed throughout the entire region (Fig. 1). Feng et al. (2011a, b) dated the Xinzhai skarn tin deposit and the Nanyangtian skarn–quartz vein-type W deposit, located in the westernmost part of South China, near the border with Vietnam. Ages of 209.5 ± 1.1 and 209.1 ± 3.3 to 214.1 ± 4.3 Ma were obtained by the 40Ar–39Ar method on phlogopite and Re–Os on molybdenite, respectively. Several rare metal and W–Mo deposits in the westernmost part of the Nanling area are of Late Triassic age. Yang et al. (2009a, b) reported a muscovite 40Ar–39Ar age of 214.1 ± 1.9 Ma from the Limu granite-related Nb–Ta–W–Sn deposit. Li et al. (2011) reported molybdenite Re–Os ages from the Liguifu, Yuntoujie, and Gaoling skarn W–Mo deposit of 211.9 ± 6.4, 226.2 ± 4.1 to 219.3 ± 4.0, and 227.3 ± 3.4 to 213.6 ± 5.6 Ma, respectively. Cai et al. (2006) obtained a molybdenite Re–Os isochron age of the Hehuaping Sn deposit of 224 ± 1.9 Ma, which is related to the Wangxianling granite pluton in the eastern Hunan Province, 6 km west of the world-class Shizhuyuan skarn–greisen W–Sn–Mo–Bi deposit in the Nanling area (Fig. 1). Though the Xitian Sn deposit in northeastern Hunan is considered of Jurassic age, our field observations suggest that the skarn Sn orebodies are located at the exo-contact of a coarse-grained granite intrusion with an age of 228.5 ± 2.5 Ma (SHRIMP zircon U–Pb method; Ma et al. 2005). Similarly, field investigations on the Xiangdong (or the Dengfuxian) quartz vein-type W deposit suggest temporal–spatial and genetic relationships between the W deposits and Triassic granitic stocks. The muscovite 40Ar–39Ar age of the Exiantang quartz vein-type Sn–W deposit in the Chong (Chongyi)–You (Shangyou)–Yu (Dayu) area in southern Jiangxi Province, eastern part of the Nanling area, is 231.4 ± 2.4 Ma (Liu et al. 2008). Zhao et al. (2006a, b) obtained a LA-ICP-MS zircon U–Pb age of 226 Ma from the Hongshan topaz-bearing granite, which is considered to be genetically related to Sn–U mineralization in western Fujian Province.

Triassic rare metal W–Sn–Mo deposits can be classified as skarn-type, wolframite–quartz vein-type, and altered granite-type in the apical zones of granitic plutons. Although more and more Triassic deposits have been recognized, all are middle to small scale and of no economic significance at this stage. The Limu Nb–Ta–W–Sn deposit, genetically associated with an ultra-acidic and peraluminous leucogranite, is a rare type of deposit in South China. The mineralization–alteration in this deposit exhibits vertical zoning, which from the lower part upward consists of microcline–albite granite, albite–microcline granite, albite–topaz granite, pegmatite–albite dikes, and pegmatoid stockscheider, W–Sn bearing quartz (–feldspar) veins (thick veins), and fluorite–lepidolite stringers (thin veins). The first three zones contain low-grade Nb–Ta–W–Sn ores with disseminated tantalite, columbite, microlite, strueverite, cassiterite, wolframite, arsenopyrite, and pyrite accompanied by variable amounts of albite, lepidolite, zinnwaldite, K-feldspar, quartz, and topaz. The last three zones contain W–Sn ores hosted in the country rocks (No. 271 Geological Team 1985). Zhu et al. (2001a, b) suggest that the granites and associated mineralization in the Limu ore district provide a good example of a highly evolved magmatic fractionation sequence of the F-rich alkali granite system.

The Nanyangtian skarn W deposit, near the border with Vietnam, is located along the Songma Triassic suture and comprises six parallel stratiform skarn ore bodies, in carbonate rocks intercalated with Cambrian schist, dated at 224.8 Ma by the K–Ar method on muscovite (Yunnan Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources 1990). Both the skarn W ore lenses and the related granite intrusion exhibit a foliation fabric, reflecting regional deformation and metamorphism, possibly induced by the collision between the South China Block and Indo-Sinian Block during the Late Triassic.

At some localities, the Triassic W–Sn ores and causative granitic rocks were overprinted by the Jurassic–Cretaceous granites and their associated Sn mineral systems. For example, the Nanyangtian Triassic skarn W deposit and Xinzhai Triassic skarn Sn deposits in southeastern Yunnan Province were overprinted by the Late Cretaceous Laojunshan granite pluton, dated at 87.2 ± 0.6 to 85.9 ± 0.4 Ma by LA-ICP-MS zircon U–Pb (Feng et al. 2011a, b), and the related Dulong large-scale skarn Sn deposit with an age of 82 ± 9.6 Ma by the cassiterite U–Pb method (Liu et al. 2007). The Dulong skarn Sn deposit developed at the contact between the Laojunshan Cretaceous granite pluton and Cambrian carbonate rocks and calcic metaclastic rocks. Its major orebodies occur along the interbedded fractures of the Cambrian strata.

Mid–Late Jurassic deposits

The Mid–Late Jurassic timing is one of the most important mineralization events in South China. Two granite suites and related mineral associations are recognized: (1) calc-alkaline granite associated with porphyry Cu (Mo–Au) and hydrothermal vein-type Pb–Zn–Ag (referred to as porphyry Cu and hydrothermal Pb–Zn–Ag systems) and (2) metaluminous granite-related skarn-, quartz vein-, and minor greisen-types W, Sn, W–Sn, W–Sn–Mo–Bi deposits dated (referred to as granite-related W–Sn–Mo–Bi systems).

Porphyry Cu and hydrothermal Pb–Zn–Ag systems

Deposits of this type are distributed along the Qin-Hang rift belt and adjacent areas, comprising, from northeast to southwest, the Linghou hydrothermal vein Cu deposit, Dexing porphyry Cu–Au–Mo deposit, Yinshan porphyry Cu-epithermal Ag–Pb–Zn deposit, Yongping skarn Cu–Mo–W deposit, Dongxiang hydrothermal vein Cu deposit, Qibaoshan skarn Cu deposit, Shuikoushan hydrothermal Pb–Zn deposit, Baoshan porphyry Cu and hydrothermal Pb–Zn deposit, Tongshanling porphyry–skarn Cu deposit, Dabaoshan porphyry–skarn–manto Cu–Mo–W deposit, and Yuanzhuding porphyry Cu–Mo deposit (Fig. 1). Precise geochronological dating of the porphyry Cu and hydrothermal Pb–Zn–Ag deposits reveals a gradual change from 178 to 155 Ma (Lu et al. 2005a, b; Li et al. 2007a, b, c; Wang et al. 2011; Guo et al. 2012), becoming younger from northeast to southwest. For instance, the Dexing porphyry Cu and the Yinshan epithermal Pb–Zn–Ag deposits have ages of 178.2 ± 1.4 and 170.0 ± 1.2 Ma, respectively (Li et al. 2007a, b, c; Guo et al. 2012), whereas the Dabaoshan skarn–manto Cu–Mo–W deposits have ages of 163.2 ± 2.3 and 166 ± 1 Ma, using the molybdenite Re–Os method (Mao et al. 2004b; Wang et al. 2011; Li et al. 2012). The Re–Os age of the Yuanzhuding porphyry Cu–Mo deposit is 157.3 ± 4.3 to 155.6 ± 3.4 Ma (Zhong et al. 2010). The zircon U–Pb ages of granodiorite porphyry in the Baoshan porphyry Cu–Mo–Pb–Zn deposit and the Tongshanling and Shuikoushan vein-type Pb–Zn deposits in South Huanan Province are 173.3 ± 1.9, 172.3 ± 1.6, and 178.9 ± 1.7 Ma, respectively (Wang et al. 2001a, b), and LA-ICP-MS ages of granodiorite in the Yongping skarn Cu–W mine and the Dongxiang hydrothermal vein-type Cu mine in central Jiangxi Province are 160 ± 2.3 Ma (Ding et al. 2005) and 164 ± 2 to 160 ± 1 Ma (Cai et al. 2012).

In some ore deposit clusters, the spatial distribution is suggestive of metal zoning from porphyry Cu to epithermal Ag–Pb–Zn and distal Au. The Dexing cluster is perhaps the most representative of this type of zoning, with the Dexing porphyry Cu–Au–Mo, the Yinshan epithermal Ag–Pb–Zn, and the Jinshan distal hydrothermal Au deposits in a peripheral position. Both the Dexing porphyry Cu and the Yinshan epithermal Ag–Pb–Zn deposits yielded molybdenite Re–Os and mica Ar/Ar ages of 170.4 ± 1.8 Ma (Lu et al. 2005a, b) and 178.2 ± 1.4 and 175.4 ± 1.2 Ma (Li et al. 2007a, b, c), respectively. The three porphyry Cu deposits Tongchang, Fujiawu, and Zhushanhong in the Dexing cluster yielded ages of 171.1 ± 1.3, 171.1 ± 5.9, and 170.0 ± 1.2 Ma, respectively (Guo et al. 2012). In the Yinshan mine, there is a distinct metal zoning from a porphyry Cu system to hydrothermal Pb–Zn–Ag veins surrounding the granodiorite pluton hosting the porphyry mineralization. Following a comprehensive study, Mao et al. (2011a) suggest a model for this group and propose that the three deposits share spatial, temporal, and genetic relationships and belong to the same metallogenic system.

Where Devonian–Carboniferous carbonate beds are present in contact with granitic intrusions, porphyry–skarn or skarn-only ore systems are formed. Except for classic porphyry–skarn ores, there are peripheral or distal stratiform skarn ores and/or Pb–Zn (Cu) sulfide ores. For instance, in the Dabaoshan mine from the granodiorite pluton outward, a deposit–metal zoning is recognized: porphyry Mo → stratiform skarn Cu–W → distal stratiform and vein-type Pb–Zn. The Yongping Cu–Mo–W deposit is another example. Although Cu–W ore, Mo ore, and pyrite-only ore are associated with both Late Jurassic porphyritic biotite granite and Late Jurassic quartz porphyry, most orebodies are stratiform and hosted in Upper Carboniferous carbonate layers. The orebodies display a metal zoning from Mo to Cu–W and pyrite, outward from the granite pluton (Fig. 3). It is worth to point out that these stratiform ores have been the focus of hot debates for their genesis for 30 years. Some researchers suggest that the porphyry–skarn ore system represents a Late Paleozoic VHMS or stratiform SEDEX-type Cu, later overprinted by a Mesozoic porphyry–skarn ore system (i.e., Gu et al. 2007).

Fig. 3

Cross-section of the Yongping stratiform skarn Cu–W deposit along the Qin-Hang Belt (after Ding et al. 2005)

Late Jurassic W–Sn polymetallic ore deposits

W–Sn polymetallic ore deposits of the Late Jurassic epoch are mainly distributed in the Nanling and adjacent areas, forming a NE-trending cluster (Fig. 1). The Qin-Hang (Qinzhou-Hangzhou) fault zone (Fig. 1) is the western boundary of the cluster, within which a great number of world-class deposits occur. These include the Shizhuyuan W–Sn–Mo–Bi polymetallic deposit, Jinchuantang Sn–Bi, Furong Sn, Xintianling W, Xianghualing Sn, Yaogangxian W, Baiyunxian W, and Huangshaping Pb–Zn–Sn–Mo deposits in southern Hunan Province, Xihuashan W, Piaotang W, Taoxikeng W, and Dajishan W deposits in southern Jiangxi Province, and Jubankeng W and Heshangtian W deposits in northern Guangdong (Fig. 1). From west to east in the cluster area, the resources of these deposits tend to decrease, while deposit types change from skarn to quartz vein. This is largely due to the fact that host rocks in southern Hunan and eastern Guangxi provinces are dominantly carbonate rocks, whereas in southern Jianggxi and northeastern Gaungdong, there are dominantly metaclastic rocks. Late Jurassic granitic rocks with which the W–Sn mineralization is associated consist of biotite granite, two-mica granite, and muscovite granite with metaluminous and peraluminous signatures. It is interesting to note that the W–Sn ore deposits in this episode developed at the intersection of NE- and EW-trending regional faults.

Although there are a few greisen W–Sn deposits, such as Hongshuizhai (Mao et al. 1995), and chlorite–quartz vein-type Sn, such as the no. 10 vein in the Furong Sn deposit (Mao et al. 2004a; Zhao et al. 2005), both skarn and quartz veins are the dominant ore types in the cluster. Shizhuyuan is a good example for a skarn–greisen-type W–Sn–Mo–Bi ore deposit, located at the southwestern contact of the Yanshanian Qianlishan granitic intrusion in Devonian carbonate rocks and marlstone (Mao et al. 1996; Mao and Li 1996). The mineralization exhibits a distinct zoning, characterized by proximal skarn–greisen W–Sn–Mo–Bi mineralization at the contact of the Qianlishan granite pluton and distal hydrothermal Pb–Zn vein deposits (Fig. 4). Wolframite–cassiterite quartz vein deposits occur at the contact of Late Jurassic granite plutons and are hosted by both Ordovician–Silurian metaclastic rocks and the granite pluton. This type of mineralzation is particularly well developed in southern Jiangxi Province and northern Guangdong Province. Where clastic rocks are the host, wolframite–cassiterite quartz veins occur at both the endo- and exo-contacts of granite plutons. Field geologists who worked in the area (No. 932 Team, Guangdong Metallurgical Geological Exploration Corp. 1966; Gu 1981; Wu et al. 1987) introduced a genetic model called “five-floor model of W–Sn mineralization,” defined by a zoning of vein density and thickness, from veins and/or tabular greisen ores to thick ore veins, moderate ore veins, thin ore veins, and veinlets (mica–fluorite veinlets) from the granite pluton outward (Fig. 5). The mica–fluorite veinlets are not economic but they provide important clues for locating buried W–Sn ore veins. In fact, this model is very useful for the exploration of this type of mineralization.

Fig. 4

Map showing the geology and distribution of the skarn–greisen W–Sn–Mo–Bi deposits and distal Pb–Zn–Ag vein deposits surrounding the Qianlishan granite pluton in the Nanling area, central South China (modified from Mao and Li 1995, 1996)

Fig. 5

Vertical zoning of granite-related wolframite (and/or cassiterite)–quartz vein deposits hosted in metaclastic rocks (modified from No. 932 Team, Guangdong Metallurgical Geological Exploration Corp. 1966; Gu 1981; Wu et al. 1987)

The mineralization ages of the W–Sn ore deposits are mainly in an age range of 160–150 Ma (Li et al. 1996; Mao et al. 2004b, 2007; Peng et al. 2006, 2007; Ma et al. 2007; Yao et al. 2007; Yuan et al. 2008). These ages are consistent with SHRIMP and LA-ICP-MS zircon U–Pb ages and mica 40Ar–39Ar ages of associated granitic rocks, ranging from 152 to 165 Ma (Liu et al. 1997, 2002; Zhu et al. 2003, 2005; Zhang et al. 2003; Fu et al. 2004a, b; Mao et al. 2004a, b; Li et al. 2004; Yao et al. 2007; Zhao et al. 2006a, b; Li et al. 2006a, b, c; Ma et al. 2005; Gu et al. 2006; Liu et al. 2008; Guo et al. 2011; Feng et al. 2011a, b), indicating a close relationship between mineralization and granitic magmatism.

These precise ages indicate that the Late Jurassic W–Sn deposits are distributed in a NE-trending cluster, covering the South Jiangxi, South Hunan, North Guangdong, and East Guangxi provinces (Fig. 1). Moreover, the Sb, Sb–Hg, and Sb–Hg–Au lode-type deposits are of low temperature (200 to 150 °C) and occur in a subparallel cluster northwest of the W–Sn area. Within the Sb–Hg–Au cluster, the mineralization developed in fractures, particularly at the axes of anticlines in some Mesozoic basins. For instance, the Xikuangshan Sb deposit, reputedly one of the largest in the world, occurs in the Shaoyang basin with major orebodies hosted in stratabound fractures, located at the top of uplifts and accompanied by strong silicification. Although there are no suitable minerals for precise age determination in the Sb deposit, Peng et al. (2003) obtained a syn-sulfide calcite Sm–Nd isochron age of 155.5 ± 1.1 Ma, which is consistent with the previous age of 156. ± 12 Ma reported by Hu et al. (1996) with the Sm–Nd isochron method. Both ages indicate a genetic relationship with the large-scale granite-related W–Sn mineralization.

Cretaceous polymetallic Sn–W–Cu–Pb–Zn–Au–Ag–U deposits

Cretaceous ore deposits in South China are extensively distributed from the Middle–Lower Yangtze River Valley in the northeast (outside of Fig. 1) to the Gejiu area in the far southwest (Fig. 1). These mineral deposits are located in pull-apart basins, volcano-sedimentary basins, and metamorphic core complexes. In general, porphyry Cu–epithermal Cu–Au–Ag and porphyry Mo deposits are located at the continental margin, while the polymetallic Sn deposits are inboard from this margin. From east to west, the number of Sn and W deposits tends to increase. The Chilu porphyry Mo (Cu) deposit in Fujian Province is located at the northeastern margin of South China and was dated at 105.9 ± 1.1 Ma (Zhang et al. 2009a, b). A group of porphyry-epithermal Cu–Au–Ag deposits occurs at the northeastern margin of the Cretaceous Shanghang basin in western Fujian Province (So et al. 1998; Zhang et al. 2003; Liang et al. 2012) (Fig. 6). Zhang et al. (2003) and Liu and Hua (2005) reported 40Ar–39Ar and Rb–Sr ages from the Zhongliao (104.5 ± 1.7 Ma), Wuziqilong (102.5 ± 1.5 Ma), Zijinshan (101.9 ± 1.3 to 100 ± 3 Ma), and Bitian (94.7 ± 2.3 to 91.5 ± 0.4 Ma) deposits. The Luoboling porphyry Cu–Mo deposit, a recently explored deposit in the ore district, was dated at 104.9 ± 1.6 Ma with the molybdenite Re–Os isochron method (Liang et al. 2012). The Yangchun porphyry Cu–Mo deposits and Yingwuling and Tiantang vein-type Pb–Zn–Ag deposits with ages of 94–82 Ma (Zhai et al. 1999) are located in the Cretaceous Yangchun volcanic basin, while the Changkeng Au and Fuwan Ag deposits are located at the edge of the Cretaceous Sanshui volcanic basin in western Guangdong Province (Fig. 7). The latter deposits have a range of 40Ar–39Ar ages from 109.9 ± 1.4 to 110.1 ± 1.3 Ma (Sun et al. 2003a, b). Moreover, the Longtoushan epithermal Au deposit is in the Dayaoshan uplift in eastern Guangxi Province hosted in a set of normal faults around the uplift dome/metamorphic core complex. The molybdenite Re–Os isochron yielded 96.8 ± 1.9 Ma (Wang et al. 2011) and SHRIMP zircon U–Pb dating of related rhyolite and granite porphyries in the mine area yielded 103.3 ± 2.4 and 100.3 ± 1.4 Ma, respectively (Chen et al. 2008a, b).

Fig. 6

Map of the Cretaceous Shanghang basin in western Fujian Province showing a cluster of porphyry Cu–Mo, epithermal Au (Cu), and epithermal Ag deposits (modified from So et al. 1998; Zhang et al. 1992)

Fig. 7

Epithermal Au–Ag and Pb–Zn–Ag deposits developed along detachment faults at the western margin of the Cretaceous–Tertiary Sanshui basin west of Guangzhou (after Wu et al. 2001). All the Cretaceous ore deposits developed either within the Sanshui faulting basin or along the detachment faults and their subsidiary fractures

A series of Sn deposits developed in the interior part of the continent; these include the Yanbei Sn deposit and the Taoxiba tin deposit in the Mesozoic Huichang volcano-sedimentary basin in Jiangxi Province and the Yinyan porphyry Sn deposit with an age of 86.9 ± 6 Ma (Hu 1989) and Dajinshan granite-related W deposits with an age of 85 Ma (Yu et al. 2012) in the Luoding basin in western Guangdong Province.

In southeastern Yunnan and western Guangxi area, another W–Sn ore district is present including the world-class Gejiu, Dachang, and Dulong deposits. However, whether this Late Cretaceous mineralization and magmatism should be assigned to the circum-Pacific or Tethys subduction domains is unclear. All Sn and/or polymetallic deposits developed along the margin of the Youjiang basin, whereas Carlin-type gold deposits occur in the central part of the same basin (Fig. 8). The precise dating recently reported demonstrates that these deposits all formed in the Mid–Late Cretaceous. Age data include a molybdenite Re–Os isochron age of the Gejiu Sn deposit of 83.4 ± 2.1 Ma (Yang et al. 2008) and a zircon (LA-ICP-MS) U–Pb age of the ore-related granite of 85 ± 0.85 Ma (Cheng et al. 2008a), zircon (LA-ICP-MS) U–Pb age of post-ore alkaline rocks and lamprophyre of 77.6 ± 3.6 and 77.2 ± 2.4 Ma, respectively (Cheng et al. 2008b). Liu et al. (2000) obtained an Rb–Sr isochron age of 76.7 ± 3.3 Ma from sphalerite and quartz separates from the Manjiazhai deposit in the Dulong ore district. The Dulong Sn deposit has an age of 82.0 ± 9.6 Ma on cassiterite, using the TIMS method, while its zircon SHRIMP U–Pb ages of the concealed granite and granite porphyry are 92.9 ± 1.9 and 86.9 ± 1.4 Ma, respectively (Liu et al. 2007). Rb–Sr and U–Pb ages of the Bozhushan granite, which is considered to be the causative intrusion that formed the Bainiuchang Pb–Zn–Sn deposit, several kilometers from the Gejiu Sn ore district in southeastern Yunnan Province, are 86–87 Ma (Cheng et al. 2010). Wang et al. (2004) reported a 40Ar–39Ar age of 94.52 ± 0.33 Ma from the no. 91 stratiform orebody of the Tongkeng-Changpo tin deposit and a quartz 40Ar–39Ar age from the Longtoushan no. 100 tin orebody in the Dachang ore district of 94.56 ± 0.45 Ma. Cai et al. (2005) obtained an Rb–Sr isochron age of 94.1 ± 2.7 Ma from the Kangma vein Sn orebody in the Dachang ore district. Cai et al. (2006) reported a SHRIMP zircon U–Pb age of 93 ± 1 Ma for the biotite granite and a SHRIMP zircon U–Pb age of 91 ± 1 Ma for the porphyritic biotite granite in the district. Li et al. (2008a, b, c) and Lin et al. (2008) obtained molybdenite Re–Os isochron ages of 95.40 ± 0.97 and 93.8 ± 4.6 Ma for the Damingshan W deposit and the Wangshe Cu–W deposit in the Damingshan ore district, respectively, south of the Dachang tin district.

Fig. 8

Cretaceous granite-related Sn and W deposits and Carlin-type gold deposits within the Youjiang basin, westernmost South China

Triassic peraluminous granite in South China is enriched in uranium, although there are not any temporally associated uranium deposits (Chen 2004). However, the U deposit could be reactivated by later events during Mid-Cretaceous lithosphere extension which resulted in the formation of extensive hydrothermal U deposits. The age of the Xiazhuang and the Xiangshan U deposits is in the range of 80–120 Ma (Deng et al. 2003; Fan et al. 2003; Hu et al. 2008, 2009).

In light of the discussion in the preceding paragraphs, we can conclude that most Cretaceous ore deposits occur in pull-apart basins, volcanic basins, and metamorphic core complexes. The mineralization ages in South China are mainly in the range of 120–80 Ma, with a peak of 90–100 Ma. Compared to the Jurassic mineralization, the Cretaceous ore deposits comprise a greater variety of types, i.e., porphyry-epithermal Cu–Au, epithermal Au and/or Ag, skarn Cu–Pb–Zn, skarn polymetallic Sn, skarn Cu–Sn, porphyry Sn, quartz vein-type W, hydrothermal vein-type Pb–Zn–Ag, and granite-related U deposits.

Geodynamic settings of the three metallogenic episodes

Ore deposits can be considered as the products of specific geodynamic settings throughout the geologic evolution. Thus, distinct mineral deposits with certain characteristics of ore-forming elements, ore-controlling structures, spatial–temporal distributions, and related magmatic rocks reflect their corresponding geodynamic framework.

The Triassic metallogenic environment

The South China Block, North China Craton, and the Indo-China Block collided to form an amalgamated block during 240–220 Ma (Faure and Ishida 1990; Charvet et al. 1990; Zhou et al. 2006). About 14,000 km2 Triassic peraluminous granites with an age range of 252–205 Ma (Zhou et al. 2006) outcrop in the South China Block and are mainly distributed along E–W-trending faults. Wang et al. (2001a, b) proposed that these Triassic granites are the result of far-field tectonics, following or during the collision between the North China Craton and the South China Block. Zhou et al. (2006) proposed that the Early–Mid Triassic granites are syn-collisional, while the Mid–Late Triassic granites are post-collisional. The age range of the Triassic W–Sn–Nb–Ta metallogenic event in South China is 239–214 Ma and these deposits show a close relationship with post-collisional granites. Granitic rocks associated with this mineralization style are mainly peraluminous granites with A/CNK >1.1 (Zhou et al. 2006), consisting of two-mica granites, which are the product of crustal melting with an S-type signature.

In fact, the Triassic mineralization in the East Eurasian continent constitutes a very strong metallogenic event, related to the geodynamic evolution of the Tethys Ocean. Following detailed exploration, the first Triassic ore belt of porphyry Cu–Mo deposits was identified in the East Kunlun Mountains in northwestern China. Many post-collisional Late Triassic deposits are also recognized in East China, comprising porphyry Mo, and distal vein Pb–Zn–Ag deposits, MVT-type Pb–Zn deposits, and orogenic Au lodes along the E–W-striking Qinling–Dabie and Daxing’anling (or eastern part of Altaids orogenic belts) as well as peraluminous granite- or leucogranite-related rare metal W–Sn deposits within the South China Block (Fig. 9a).

Fig. 9

Model proposed for the Mesozoic geodynamic evolution of South China and associated ore deposits. a Interaction between the North China Craton, Yangtze Craton, Cathaysia Block, Indo-Sinian Block, and Sibumasu Block; various ore deposits formed during the Indosinian tectonomagmatic events. b Coupling between the Qin-Hang suture and porphyry Cu–Mo deposits at 175–160 Ma, presumably caused by the tear-off of the subducting slab of the Izanagi Plate. c Upwelling of asthenospheric magma and extensive mantle–crust interaction possibly induced by the plate window, which contributed to the formation of Sn–W deposits in this upwelling area at around 160–150 Ma. d Cretaceous tectono-metallogenic event along the continental margin of the South China Block. During 134–80 Ma, the Paleo-Pacific plate moved parallel to the Eurasian continent causing NWN–SES extension, favorable for the development of pull-apart basins along the continental margin and Cu–Mo–Au–Ag–W–Sn–Pb–Zn deposits related to these basins

The Jurassic metallogenic environment

Zhou et al. (2006) recognized a period of relative tectonomagmatic quiescence from about 205 to 180 Ma (Early Jurassic) in South China. By contrast, the Mid–Late Jurassic is an important time for the tectonomagmatic evolution of South China and, indeed, of the whole of the Eurasian continental margin. The dominant tectonic regime gradually changed from a Tethyan domain to a Pacific domain in the Mid–Late Jurassic, which was probably caused by the oblique subduction of the Izanagi plate on the Pacific margin (Maruyama et al. 1997). A Middle Jurassic volcanic belt, extending for about 500 km, is recognized from Ningyuan–Xintian in southern Hunan to Yizhang in southeastern Hunan, Longnan–Xunwu in southern Jiangxi, and the Yongding in southern Fujian (Xu 1992; Zhao et al. 1998; Tao et al. 1998; Chen et al. 1999, 2002; Li et al. 2003a, b; Wang et al. 2003; Zhou et al. 2006). The volcanic rocks of this belt comprise alkaline basalt and tholeiite, accompanied by rhyolite and minor andesite in southern Jiangxi and southeastern Fujian, showing the characteristics of bimodal volcanism, thereby indicating a rift environment in the early stages of the Mid-Jurassic period. Although this bimodal volcanic belt is approximately parallel to the Dabie-Sulu orogen and Songma Triassic suture zones, it is later than the main collision stages. Xu and Xie (2005) and Xie et al. (2005) described this belt as a result of the transition of the tectonic regime from the Tethyan tectonic domain to the Pacific tectonic domain. Maruyama and Seno (1986), Moore (1989), Wan (1993), and Wan and Zhu (2002) pointed out that the intense tectonic activity in the Jurassic was caused by the NW-trending migration of the Izanagi plate, which subducted beneath the Eurasian continent. These activities caused eastern China to undergo NW-trending compression. The NW-trending subduction resulted in an important anticlockwise 20–30° rotation of the eastern China continental block. However, the timing of the Izanagi plate beginning to subduct beneath the Eurasian continent remains an unsolved problem. Based on tectonic observations and geochronological data, Dong et al. (2007) proposed that the tectonic transition began at 165 ± 5 Ma. According to the earliest ages of formation of the metallic deposits in East China and corresponding magmatic rocks, Mao et al. (2007, 2008b, 2011d) speculated that the Izanagi plate began to subduct towards NW at around 175 Ma, which resulted in crustal thickening. Zhang et al. (2009a, b) proposed the subduction of Paleo-Pacific (or Izanagi) plate beneath the Eurasian continent occurred at ca. 170 ± 5 Ma, in light of the structural trends in the South China Block. These observations are consistent with the suggestion of Engebretson et al. (1985), who proposed that the Izanagi Plate continued to subduct perpendicular to the Eursian continent at a rate of 4.7 cm/year, forming an extensive Jurassic accretionary complex all along the Asian margin, from the Philippines to Primorye, in Far East Russia. However, NE-trending strike-slip faults in the Asian continent support an oblique rather than orthogonal subduction. In the early stage of subduction, calc-alkaline magma and possibly some adakitic magma formed by partial melting of the subduction slab, along the Neoproterozoic suture between the Cathaysia Block and the Yangtze Craton. It is interesting to note that the porphyry–skarn Cu–Mo–Au and vein-type Pb–Zn–Ag deposits developed along the earlier suture zone and the mineralization ages changed from 175 Ma in the northeast to 155 Ma in the southwest, corresponding to the direction of movement of the subducting plate. These magmas were emplaced at a shallow level and formed granodiorite and related porphyry–skarn–vein Cu–Mo–Au–Pb–Zn–Ag ore deposits (Fig. 9b). It is worth to point out that, in this period, many NE-trending thrust faults developed in the Mid (or Mid–Late) Jurassic in South China. This can be seen in some mine areas, for instance, in the Lengshuikeng epithermal Ag–Pb–Zn mine and the Yongping skarn Cu–W mines in eastern Jiangxi Province and in the Dabaoshan porphyry–skarn Cu–Mo–W mine and the Heshangtian W property in the North Guangdong Province. Tao (2008) reported some large-scale thrust faults and/or nappes in western Fujian Province, where the rock units affected are the Mid-Jurassic Zhangping Group.

As the subduction of the Izanagi plate continued, continental crust gradually thickened and developed a series of NE-trending lithospheric extensional belts and deep faults in a back-arc setting (Mao et al. 2007, 2008b, 2011c). Under this tectonic regime, abundant magmas were emplaced in the Nanling and adjacent areas, mainly distributed along large-scale fault belts, especially at the intersections of NE-trending and EW-trending faults, which commonly focus magmatic activity and related mineralization. Field observations show that almost all W–Sn veins are controlled by NE-trending faults, characterized by compression–shearing at an early stage, followed by transtension. The intrusive rocks and associated W–Sn deposits are commonly S- or syntexis-type granite because they are enriched in SiO2 and Al2O3, are depleted in mafic components, and have elevated initial Sr ratios (I Sr > 0.7100) (Xu et al. 1982). However, Li and Li (2007) found that these granites lack the Al-rich minerals that are typical of S-type granite, such as cordierite, garnet, and andalusite. Moreover, their petrochemical composition indicates that these granites are metaluminous rather than peraluminous, showing a negative relationship of SiO2 vs. P2O5. Based on this evidence, Li and Li (2007) suggested they should be assigned to highly differentiated I-type granite. Other researchers proposed them as A-type granites because they are enriched in alkaline components relative to common granitic rocks (Fu et al. 2004b; Jiang et al. 2008). As mentioned above, the Late Jurassic granites in the Nanling area are strongly differentiated, but it remains difficult to decide whether they are S-, I-, or A-types granites. Gilder et al. (1996) proposed that a series of granites with low t DM and high ε Nd values extend from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province to eastern Jiangxi Province, southern Hunan and then to Shiwandashan of southeastern Guangxi Province, i.e., Shi-Hang belt (or Qin-Hang belt), reflecting an overall setting of continental extension. Hong et al. (1998) and Chen and Jahn (1998) reported the occurrence of granites with low t DM and high ε Nd values east to the Shi-Hang belt in the South China Block. These belts with low t DM and high ε Nd reflect several parallel NE-trending translithospheric faults and extensional belts. These belts coincide with the distribution of W–Sn deposits in the Nanling and adjacent areas (Fig. 1). Zhu et al. (2005) pointed out that the widely distributed fine-grained mafic enclaves in the Niumiao granite pluton associated with Sn mineralization in the western end of the Nanling area imply incomplete mixing of coexisting mafic and felsic magmas. Li et al. (2006a, b, c) suggested that mantle source fluids contributed to form hydrothermal mineralization, based on 3He/4He ratios of pyrite fluid inclusions in the Furong Sn deposit. All the above-mentioned studies consistently proved that the Qin-Hang belt (or Shi-Hang belt) is a major Jurassic lithospheric extension belt. Asthenospheric mantle upwelling resulted in bimodal volcanism in rift basins, with minor mafic components formed in the early stage. In the late stage, underplating basaltic magma induced melting of the upper crust. Consequently, we suggest that a window or break formed in the subduction slab, affecting the Nanling and adjacent areas during 160–150 Ma (Mao et al. 2007, 2008a) (Fig. 9c). The metaluminous granites originated from the partial melting of the upper crust with some input of mantle material, resulting in strong differentiation and gradual enrichment in Sn, W, Mo, Bi, Be, Li, and other ore-forming elements, H2O, F, B volatiles, and incompatible elements, such as Li, Rb, and Be in the apical parts (cupolas) of the granitic plutons. Carbonate country rocks favored the development of skarn–greisen ore deposits proximal to the pluton–country rock contact and distal vein-type Pb–Zn–Ag deposits. Where clastic and/or metamorphic rocks are the country rocks, wolframite–quartz and/or cassiterite–quartz vein-type ore deposits are preferentially formed. It appears plausible that the breakup of the subduction slab not only resulted in emplacement of magmatic rocks and related W–Sn polymetallic mineralization, but also caused outward migration of mineralizing fluids in a regional thermal gradient. This resulted in the formation of low-temperature Sb–Hg–Au deposits in the northwestern Nanling area (Fig. 1), where the Xikuangshan Sb and the Woxi Sb–Au deposits formed at 155.1 ± 1.1 to 156.3 Ma (Hu et al. 1996; Peng et al. 2003) and at about 144.8 ± 11.7 Ma (Shi et al. 1993), respectively.

The Cretaceous metallogenic environment

The time of 135 Ma is another important temporal boundary in the Eastern Eurasian continent (Mao et al. 2003a, b, 2005, 2008b, 2011b, c, d), which was used to separate the Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks in East China. In fact, a widespread regional tectonic event is identified at around 135 Ma. For instance, Wang et al. (2002) recognized two units of volcanic rocks separated by a discordant boundary in the Mesozoic basins along the EW-trending northern Huaiyang belt, northern Dabieshan area, and suggested that they reflect two stages of volcanic activity. The lower units of the volcanic rocks, Maotanchang Formation, are mainly distributed in the Jinzhai and the Xianhualing regions and have ages of 149–138 Ma. The upper units of the volcanic rocks are part of the Yuanxiaotian Formation with ages of 132–116 Ma. A conglomerate, comprising clasts of gray gneiss, eclogite, and volcanic rocks, is at the base of the Yuanxiaotian Formation. The geochemical and lithological character of the volcanic clasts in this conglomerate indicates that they originated from the Maotanchang Formation. The temporal and stratigraphical gap underscores the important geological event at around ca. 135 Ma in East China. Niu et al. (2003) reported a 135.8 ± 3.5 Ma SHRIMP zircon U–Pb age of the volcanic rocks at the base of the Mid-Cretaceous basin in the Yanshanian fold belt of North China. Jia et al. (2008) and Li et al. (2008a, b, c) analyzed the paleomagnetic polar wandering curves and structural features of the Songliao basin in northeastern China and the Luxi Basin in western Shandong Province of North China, respectively, and pointed out that these basins experienced rapid northward migration between 135 and 110 Ma, accompanied by bimodal volcanic activity. Xie et al. (2007) and Zhou et al. (2008) carried out systematic zircon U–Pb dating of volcanic rocks in several Cretaceous basins hosting apatite–magnetite ore deposits in the Middle–Lower Yangtze Valley and determined that the age of these volcanic rocks is ca. 133–125 Ma. Further precise dating indicates that mineralization and magmatism at ca. 135 Ma was rare in the Cathaysia Block, but there are many andesitic volcanic rocks with ages ranging from 90 to 120 Ma (Zhou and Li 2000; Zhou et al. 2006) instead. The above data support a transitional regime from compression to extension at about 135 Ma in East China.

Mineralization with ages of 145 to 137 Ma is an important component of the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous ore systems in North China, northeastern China, and the Middle–Lower Yangtze River Valley belt (Mao et al. 2003a, b, 2005, 2006, 2011b; Zhou et al. 2008). However, the time range of 150–130 Ma is a period of weak magmatism and mineralization in most of the South China Block. Mineralization mainly occurred in an age range of 120–80 Ma with a peak at 100–90 Ma in South China, which is a little younger than the peak age range of 120–115 Ma in North China and northeastern China (Mao et al. 2011d). This episode of mineralization in both South and North China is closely associated with NNE-trending strike-slip faults along the continental margin. It is known that several sinistral strike-slip faults, such as the major Tan-Lu regional fault zone, developed in the continental margin possibly due to oblique subduction of the Izanagi plate (Qi et al. 2000). Although initially starting at 221–210 Ma in the Sulu and 198–181 Ma in the Dabie Mountains (Zhu et al. 2009) and reactivated at 165–160 Ma (Wang et al. 2006; Zhu et al. 2009), the Tan-Lu strike-slip fault was particularly active between ca. 132 and 120 Ma (Zhu et al. 2001a, b). Furthermore, Wang et al. (2006) recognized that the Tan-Lu fault zone acted as a sinistral strike-slip zone before 139 Ma to become extensional later, from 128 to 90 Ma. Therefore, we can conclude that the extensive development of regional NNE-trending strike-slip faults is responsible for ore formation in the pull-apart basins, volcano-sedimentary rift basins, and metamorphic core complexes. Besides the Tan-Lu fault zone, there are many parallel NNE-trending strike-slip faults over most of the East China continent, 500 km inboard of the coastal margin. Although it is known that the Tan-Lu fault does not extend to South China and terminates along the Yangtze River Valley, many parallel strike-slip faults and related pull-apart basins are present in South China (Qi et al. 2000). Shu et al. (2006) suggest that the NE-trending extensional basins and granitic rocks in South China are similar to the basin-and-range style tectonics of western North America. The Cretaceous basins in South China host a variety of ore deposits including porphyry-epithermal Cu–Au and epithermal Au–Ag, granite-related W–Sn, and epithermal Au–Ag deposits. Porphyry Cu–Mo deposits, granite-related Sn deposits, and subvolcanic rock-related Fe deposits may all be present in the same basin. Indeed, the Cretaceous period represents a regional tectono-metallogenic event along the entire East Eurasian continental margin (Mao et al. 2011d).

Moreover, the Cretaceous mineralization (<135 Ma) is the other regional tectono-metallogenic event along the eastern continental margin. Except for dense mineralization in South China, there are apatite–magnetite deposits with ages of 135–123 Ma in the Cretaceous Ningwu–Luzhong basins in the Middle–Lower Yangtze River Valley (Ningwu Research Group 1978; Mao et al. 2011b; Zhou et al. 2008), lode gold deposits in East Qinling controlled by Cretaceous metamorphic complexes and porphyry Mo–vein-type Pb–Zn–Ag deposits hosted in several Cretaceous basins with an age range of 130–112 Ma in the East Qinling–Dabeishan belt (Mao et al. 2002, 2005, 2008b, 2011c), and some porphyry Mo and 130–107 Ma lode Au deposits in northeast China (Yang et al. 2003; Zhang et al. 2010; Liu et al. 2011a, b; Sun et al. 2012).

As for the geodynamic setting of this Cretaceous episode of mineralization, some unresolved issues remain. Xie et al. (2006) suggested that the Cretaceous mafic dikes distributed east and west of the Wuyishan Mountain have different characteristics, reflecting active continental margin and intraplate geotectonic settings, respectively. Based on geochemical data, Chen et al. (2008a, b) proposed that the NE-trending basalts in the southeastern coastal magmatic belt that formed during 101–76 Ma exhibit arc-like signatures and are derived from subduction-modified mantle. Compared to the basin-and-range tectonics of North America, Shu and Wang (2006) suggested that the Pacific plate subducted along the Taiwan–Mariana Islands beneath the Eurasian continent with a steep angle instead of the gentle subduction of the Paleo-Pacific plate. The model can explain the extensive distribution of the southeastern coastal magmatic belt, with a calc-alkaline signature and contrasting with the widespread distribution of rift basins, up to 2,000 km inland from the eastern continental margin. We propose that the sinistral strike-slip faults and related pull-apart basins of this period are closely associated with the changing direction of the Paleo-Pacific plate from oblique subduction to parallel to the continental margin at 135–80 Ma. These processes, which were instrumental for the formation of a wide range of mineral deposits, can be ascribed to regional large-scale lithospheric thinning and delamination of the thickened lithosphere and thermal erosion (Fig. 9d). Granitic magmas formed during these tectono-thermal events include those derived from partial melting of the mantle, forming porphyry Cu–Mo and epithermal Cu–Au–Ag mineral systems, and those derived from the partial melting of the middle/upper crust, resulting in the formation of porphyry Sn or granite-related skarn–manto–hydrothermal vein polymetallic Sn deposits. Both contrasting ore systems can occur in the same basin occasionally, but the first ore system is usually developed at the continental margin, while the latter forms inboard of the margin.


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This paper is the result of comprehensive research. We are indebted to many colleagues who helped us during this study, particularly to the field geologists in many mines who guided us to investigate the related geological features and Prof. Xie Guiqing, Dr. Yuan Shunda, and Dr. Guo Chunli who helped us collect some data. We are grateful to Prof. Bernd Lehmann and an anonymous reviewer for their criticisms and constructive comments and suggestions. This research is jointly funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 40930419) and the project of China Geological Survey (No. 121201112083).

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Correspondence to Mao Jingwen.

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Jingwen, M., Yanbo, C., Maohong, C. et al. Major types and time–space distribution of Mesozoic ore deposits in South China and their geodynamic settings. Miner Deposita 48, 267–294 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-012-0446-z

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  • Granite-related polymetallic Sn–W
  • Porphyry Cu–Mo–(Au)
  • Epithermal Cu–Au–Ag
  • South China