The oldest geological materials on Earth are Hadean (>4 Ga) detrital zircon grains. Their chemistry and apparently low Ti-in-zircon temperatures (≤700 °C) are considered to be inconsistent with crystallization in a magma of the tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite (TTG) suite, although these are the dominant Archean (4.0–2.5 Ga) silicic rocks. Using a new data set of trace element contents in zircons from Paleoarchean Barberton TTGs (South Africa) and thermodynamic modeling, we show that these zircons have crystallized at near-solidus conditions from a compositionally uniform granitic melt. This melt is residual from the crystallization of a less evolved (tonalitic) parent and thereby shows major and trace element compositions different from bulk TTG rocks. A global compilation reveals that most Hadean detrital and Archean TTG-hosted grains share a peculiar zircon trace element signature that is distinct from the chemical trends defined by Phanerozoic zircons. Our model shows that the low Ti contents of early Earth zircons reflect crystallization at higher temperatures (720–800 °C) than initially inferred due to lower modeled TiO2 activity in the melt relative to previous estimates. We therefore propose that near-solidus zircon crystallization from a chemically evolved melt in a TTG-like magmatic environment was the dominant zircon-forming process on the early Earth.

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