The abundance of Precambrian organic-rich shales, heated beyond the oil and gas window, requires that enormous volumes of hydrocarbons were generated and transported through the ancient crust. However, the former passage of fluid hydrocarbons rarely leaves a trace, so evidence for this process in the early Precambrian rock record is sparse. Here, we report the widespread presence of solidified oil (pyrobitumen) in the iron formation of the 1.88 Ga Gunflint Formation, Ontario, Canada. Petrographic textures indicate at least two phases of oil migration, an early phase marked by pyrobitumen in granules and intergranular pores, synchronous with synsedimentary silica cementation, and a later phase restricted to crosscutting fractures. The paragenetic relationships between the pyrobitumen and iron oxides indicate that oil migration commenced before hematite and some magnetite growth. Our evidence for early oil migration can be explained by petroleum generation during the 1.86–1.80 Ga Penokean orogeny, expelling hydrocarbons generated in the core of the fold-and-thrust belt outwards and updip through the sediments of the Gunflint Formation.

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