One of the major challenges in early Earth geology is the interpretation of the nature of the crust and tectonic processes due to the limited exposures of Archean rocks. This question is predominantly addressed by numerical modeling, structural geology, geochemical analyses, and petrological approaches. Here we report on the reconstruction of one of the oldest, well-preserved volcano-sedimentary sequences on Earth, the 3.28–3.22 Ga Fig Tree Group in the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa, based on geochronology, provenance, and stratigraphy to provide new constraints on the nature of tectonic processes in the Archean. The Fig Tree basin was asymmetric and the onset of deposition varied across the greenstone belt. The Fig Tree Group is now preserved in east-west oriented bands of fault-bounded structural belts with those preserved in the southern parts of the greenstone belt showing an onset of deposition at 3.28 Ga, those in the center at 3.26 Ga, and those in the north at 3.24 Ga. Stratigraphically, the rocks display a general up-section trend from deeper to shallower-water deposition and/or from finer- to coarser-grained sedimentary rocks. Associated with this up-section stratigraphic trend, the sedimentary rocks show a change in provenance from more regionally similar to more locally variable, and an increase in felsic volcanic activity, especially toward the closure of Fig Tree deposition. The data is consistent with formation of the Fig Tree Group in a compressional tectonic setting by deposition in a foreland basin that experienced progressive accretion of crustal terranes onto a northward prograding fold-and-thrust belt.

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