The lowermost unit of the Table Mountain Group (Cape Supergroup), the Ordovician Piekenierskloof Formation is a siliciclastic succession that formed during the initial stages of the Cape Basin development in southwest Gondwana. This contemporary sedimentological re-evaluation of the depositional history and provenance of the Piekenierskloof Formation provides new insights into the palaeoenvironment and tectonic setting of the early Cape Basin. Outcrop-based sedimentary facies analysis revealed distinctive depositional features, dominated by large trough cross-bedding, which suggest a shallow, perennial, sand-bed braided fluvial style with bedload transportation in roughly 1 to 2.5 m deep and relatively wide channels. This fluvial style was possibly influenced by the global absence of substrate stabilizing terrestrial flora in pre-Devonian rivers.
Based on an integrated approach of clast count, framework petrography and palaeocurrent studies, the provenance analysis show that the source rocks of the Piekenierskloof Formation were likely situated in source areas characterized by two main rock types: (1) a dominant low metamorphic rank metasedimentary rock suite with parent rocks of variable grain-size, and (2) minor plutonic rocks. The data also suggest that the parent rocks were locally intruded by quartz veins and/or pegmatites. Consistent palaeoflow to the southeast and east further indicates that these source areas were located to the northwest and west of the clastic sediment depocentres in the Cape Basin of southwest Gondwana in the Early Ordovician.
Accessible outcrops of the Piekenierskloof Formation are mostly laterally limited and sparsely distributed, which hinder stratigraphic correlations, and therefore inferences of tectonic activity during the sedimentation in the Early Ordovician cannot be convincingly made. For a better understanding of the Early Palaeozoic evolution of the Cape Basin in southwest Gondwana, systematic outcrop studies acquiring high-resolution digital imagery using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and terrestrial laser scanning, coupled with subsurface facies analysis should be undertaken. The Piekenierskloof Formation and the rest of the Table Mountain Group, with their exceptionally extensive, but rather inaccessible cliff faces, are excellent candidates for such high-resolution digital-based studies.