The indigenous origin of Witwatersrand "carbon"

D. J. Mossman*, W. E L Minter, A. Dutkiewicz, D. K. Hallbauer, S. C. George, Q. Hennigh, T. O. Reimer, F. D. Horscroft

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    51 Citations (Scopus)


    In the Witwatersrand approximately 40% of the gold is intimately associated with so-called "carbon" in "carbon seam reefs", which occur in over a dozen paleoplacers, many of them concentrated at two stratigraphic levels in the 7000-m-thick succession of Archean siliciclastic sedimentary rocks. This is reduced carbon, present as kerogen admixed in various proportions with derivative (now solid) bitumen(s). Oil generation and migration were active geological processes during Early Earth history. Numerous possible source rocks for oil generation, including the carbon seams themselves, occur within the Witwatersrand basin. In the Witwatersrand ore, oil-bearing fluid inclusions are also present, derived like the bitumen, by thermal maturation of the kerogen. The presence of kerogen and bitumen in the Witwatersrand sedimentary rocks, together with a wealth of observations on the spatial distribution of the carbon seams confirm that the carbon originated in situ from living organisms in microbial mat cover, as opposed to flowing in from elsewhere as liquid hydrocarbons as some researchers have suggested. Paleochannels, which truncated auriferous carbon seams early in the depositional history, are of widespread occurrence, and micro-synsedimentary faults offset carbon seams. The carbon seams are thus indigenous biogenic markers that grew contemporaneously with placer development. The various features highlighting the nature and spatial distribution of Witwatersrand carbon seams provide a classic case where field evidence trumps laboratory data in the reconstruction of geological processes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)173-186
    Number of pages14
    JournalPrecambrian Research
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2008


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