Abstract

Fruta del Norte is a completely concealed and extraordinarily well preserved epithermal gold-silver deposit located in the remote Cordillera del Cóndor mountain ranges of southeastern Ecuador. Currently defined resources in a single, steep, relatively small body, displaying exceptional grade continuity, contain 9.81 million ounces (Moz) of gold and 15.0 Moz of silver, with an indicated resource grade of 9.59 g/t Au and 12.9 g/t Ag. The deposit was discovered in early 2006 during a greenfields program conducted by Aurelian Resources, a Canadian junior explorer. Discovery resulted from systematic drill testing of a conceptual geologic model, which predicted that auriferous veins would be present in andesitic volcanic rocks inferred to underlie a steep silicified rib cutting a fluvial conglomerate sequence. The rib is highly anomalous in arsenic, antimony, and mercury but contains low-order gold values. The second drill test—the discovery hole—intersected >230 m of ore-grade gold-silver mineralization beneath ~200 m of the barren conglomerate cover.

The host andesitic volcanic rocks, crosscutting feldspar porphyry, and associated phreatic breccias are assigned to the Piuntza unit of the Santiago Formation, which, along with the Zamora batholith and a series of porphyry copper stocks, was generated in a continental margin magmatic arc during the Middle to Late Jurassic. The deposit is located near the northeastern extremity of the ~10-km-long, Suárez pull-apart basin where it is linked to the steep West and Central faults, part of the regionally extensive Las Peñas strike-slip fault zone. The pull-apart basin was progressively filled by fluviatile conglomerate, dacitic ignimbrite flows, finer grained siliciclastic sedimentary rocks, and, finally, andesite flows, all assigned to the Chapiza Formation.

The Fruta del Norte deposit consists of a 1.3-km-long and up to >300-m-wide vein-stockwork associated with quartz-illite-pyrite alteration. The deposit comprises two principal vein types, one in the south dominated by quartz, manganoan carbonates, and abundant base metal sulfides and the other in the north dominated by manganese- and base metal-poor quartz and calcite. Adularia is a minor main-stage gangue mineral in each. Both types are abruptly transitional upward and westward to a third ore type marked by intense silicification and chalcedony veining, with disseminated and veinlet marcasite (±pyrite). The uppermost part of this silicic zone is sulfide deficient, probably the result of a short-lived supergene oxidation event prior to initial conglomerate deposition. The deposit is notable for the widespread occurrence of fine to coarse visible gold, which gives rise to bonanza grades and is closely associated with quartz, chalcedony, carbonate, and sulfide gangue.

The sulfide-free, silicic zone is overlain by an extensive silica sinter horizon, which may either directly overlie the Piuntza volcanic rocks and/or occur as interbeds in the basal 20 m of the conglomerate, which are invariably silicified and marcasite bearing. Otherwise, the conglomerate above the orebody lacks silicification, with one critical exception: the steeply inclined zone that is exposed as the silicified rib that led to discovery. The sinter horizon, containing localized mud-pool deposits and hydrothermal eruption breccias, is in unusual proximity to the underlying gold-silver orebody.

The northern and southern parts of the Fruta del Norte deposit possess characteristics that are usually considered typical of low and intermediate sulfidation epithermal deposits, respectively; they may have required two discrete mineralizing fluids, both of which are suspected to have ascended via the West and Central faults. The upward change to the silicified zone is attributed to cooling of the ascendant fluid on approach to the paleosurface sinter. Progressive burial of the deposit beneath the Suárez basin fill may have contributed to the suppression and eventual extinction of the epithermal system, with gold mineralization of the conglomerate being inhibited by rheologic and chemical factors. Formation of the Fruta del Norte deposit and complete filling of the Suárez basin took place in >3 to 6 m.y. during the Late Jurassic (<160 to >157–154 Ma).

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