Platinum-group minerals (PGM) have been located in magnetite-bearing gabbroic rocks of the Freetown Layered Complex, Sierra Leone for the first time. The PGM occurrences described here are from four stratiform layers characterized by a local, more primitive, composition of the associated silicate minerals and elevated platinum-group elements (PGE) and base metal assays. The uppermost layer (Horizon B) is the best exposed; the three lower layers are currently known only from single outcrops.
Platinum-group minerals are irregularly distributed through these layers. Altered PGE arsenides and antimonides, possibly derived from sperrylite (PtAs2) and “mertieite” [Pd8(Sb,As)3 to Pd11(Sb,As)4], occur in the lowest known PGE-enriched layer (Horizon M). Cooperite (PtS) and Pt-Fe alloys were observed in a higher layer (Horizon D). Pd-Cu alloys including nielsenite (PdCu3) are unique to the next stratigraphically higher PGM-bearing layer (Horizon C). The uppermost layer (Horizon B) contains the most PGM. Pt-Fe alloy (usually Pt3Fe) is by far the most abundant PGM and cooperite is a significant component of the assemblage. Bowieite [(Pt,Ir,Rh)2S3], tulameenite (Pt2CuFe), and laurite (RuS2) have also been found in this horizon.
Cooperite occurs in a late magmatic, high Ca-amphibole (cannilloite) which has formed interstitially to plagioclase and between plagioclase and olivine at a depth of about 20 km. The cooperite is often attached to rounded magnetite grains within the amphibole. Where cooperite is located at the edge of the amphibole or in interstitial locations it has been altered to Pt-Fe alloy. Platinum-group minerals sometimes occur near the margin of sulfides, mainly chalcopyrite and minor pentlandite. The entire PGM assemblage is found mainly interstitial to olivine, pyroxene, and plagioclase, often at the edge of amphibole or in interstitial sites associated with amphibole, chlorite, or quartz. Many of the PGM grains are less than 1 micron in size, with a few in the 2–4 micron range; the largest example is a grain of Pt-Fe alloy that measures 9 by 6 microns.
The PGM described here from the rocks are three orders of magnitude smaller than the eluvial and alluvial PGM of the Freetown complex, which are predominantly Pt-Fe alloys, laurite, erlichmanite (OsS2), and Os-Ir alloys. The large eluvial and alluvial PGM might be derived from a horizon containing coarse-grained mineralization, but no vestige of such a horizon has yet been discovered. Previous studies of this area have suggested that secondary remobilization of the PGE has occurred, leading to the growth of large secondary PGM.
The primary PGE-mineralization associated with magnetite and Cu-rich sulfide mineralization maybe due to late sulfur saturation in the magma after Ni has been removed by being incorporated into earlier olivine. The presence of digenite, native copper, and nielsenite indicates a low sulfur fugacity, possibly due to oxidation. The four distinctive PGM-bearing horizons are the result of separate injections of magma. The silicate compositions, the minor element content, the PGM mineral assemblage, and the Cu/Pd ratios of the rocks of the PGM-bearing horizons demonstrate that these four magma pulses are compositionally distinct.