Zircon is arguably the most commonly used geochronometer, but the reliability of ages obtained requires a full understanding of processes that might compromise the integrity of its U-Pb systematics. Here we present the results of a multifaceted ion microprobe study of zircon grains from the Napier Complex, East Antarctica, a region affected by pervasive high-temperature metamorphism at 2.5 Ga, and from which previous zircon geochronological interpretations have been problematic. Both U-Pb spot analysis (∼15 μm) and high spatial resolution (∼2 μm) scanning ion imaging of Pb isotopes have been applied in an attempt to quantify the effects of metamorphism. Spot analyses spread along concordia yielding 207Pb/206Pb ages from 2.5 Ga to 3.9 Ga, with the oldest grains reversely discordant. Ion images of uranogenic Pb reveal a surprising micrometer-scale patchy distribution that is unrelated to crystal morphology or damage. The 207Pb/206Pb ratios within these subdomains correspond to apparent zircon ages as old as 4.2 Ga. These are interpreted as artifacts of ancient redistribution of radiogenic Pb, a process that can generate meaningless ages, and are not relicts of ancient (including Hadean) zircon. Scanning ion imaging thus facilitates identification of unsupported radiogenic Pb and enables testing of the validity of old ages from zircon known to have a long and complicated history.

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