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Trace element distribution in uraninite from Mesoarchaean Witwatersrand conglomerates (South Africa) supports placer model and magmatogenic source


The first systematic analyses of the trace and rare earth element (REE) distribution in uraninite from various gold-bearing conglomerates of the Mesoarchaean Central Rand Group in South Africa’s Witwatersrand Basin by in situ laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry confirms a placer origin for the uraninite and a magmatogenic provenance thereof. The chemistry of commonly rounded to sub-rounded uraninite is highly variable from grain to grain but generally marked by elevated Th, W, Bi, Mo, Ta, Y, REE contents and unusually high Au concentrations. Especially, the high Th contents and the chondrite-normalised REE patterns are incompatible with post-sedimentary hydrothermal genetic models for the U mineralisation and point to derivation of the detrital uraninite from a high-temperature, magmatogenic, presumably granitic to pegmatitic source. The elevated Au concentrations (of as much as 67 ppm) in this uraninite are unique to the Witwatersrand and hint at a granitic hinterland that was enriched in both U and Au, thus presenting a potential source domain for some of the detrital gold in the Witwatersrand conglomerates. Minute fracture fills of brannerite in close proximity to the larger, rounded uraninite grains are devoid of detectable Bi, Mo, REE and Au and have only very low concentrations of Th, W, Ta and Y. This is explicable by crystallisation from a low-temperature hydrothermal fluid. Thus, Witwatersrand U phases show, analogous to many other ore constituents, such as pyrite and gold, clear evidence of partial, short-range mobilisation of originally detrital particles by post-sedimentary fluids.

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H. Brätz and U. Schüßler helped with LA-ICP-MS and EMP analyses, respectively. We thank W.E.L. Minter for providing some of the analysed samples from historic mine sites. J. Mercadier and L. Robb are thanked for their thorough reviews of the original manuscript. Financial support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG grants FR2183/3-1 and FR2183/3-2) is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to H. E. Frimmel.

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Editorial handling: B. Lehmann

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ESM Fig. 8

Correlation diagram of Ag versus Au contents in uraninite grains from different samples of the Vaal Reef at Vaal Reefs Mine (VVR29, VVR39, VVR66), the Vaal Reef at Stillfontein Mine (SVR3, SVR6), the Vaal Reef at President Steyn Mine (HFW60), the Carbon Leader Reef at West Driefontein Mine (HFW59), the Saaiplaas Reef at Saaiplaas Mine (HFW61), and the Steyn Reef at President Steyn Mine (HFW106) (JPEG 31 kb)

ESM Table 1

Representative electron microprobe analyses of individual uraninite grains from Central Rand Group conglomerate beds (XLSX 13 kb)

ESM Table 2

LA-ICP-MS analyses of individual uraninite grains from Central Rand conglomerates (XLSX 45 kb)

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(TIFF 50304 kb)

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Depiné, M., Frimmel, H.E., Emsbo, P. et al. Trace element distribution in uraninite from Mesoarchaean Witwatersrand conglomerates (South Africa) supports placer model and magmatogenic source. Miner Deposita 48, 423–435 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-013-0458-3

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  • Uraninite
  • Witwatersrand
  • Trace elements
  • Gold
  • Archaean atmosphere