The Palaeoproterozoic Hartley Formation in the Olifantshoek Group was deposited in one of the rift-related Waterberg (sensu lato) red bed basins which formed on the Kaapvaal Craton after the 2.05 Ga Bushveld intrusions and coeval thermal event. The age of these basins is not well constrained due to the shortage of directly dateable rock types. The Hartley Formation contains rare quartz-porphyry lavas interbedded with the dominant basalts and these provide the means to date the formation by analyses of zircon. In this work zircon from one sample has been dated by six Th-U-Pb methods, namely Laser Ablation ICP Quadrupole Mass Spectrometry, Laser Ablation ICP High-resolution Mass Spectrometry, Laser Ablation ICP Multicollector Mass Spectrometry U-Pb (also Lu-Hf), Nordsim Ion probe U-Pb and Th-Pb; and Krogh method ID-TIMS. Our precise ages give a combined age of 1915.2 ± 1.1 Ma. Including one published ion probe date from the only other known occurrence of quartz porphyry, the results only agree if the quoted analytical errors are increased by 20%, which gives a combined result of 1915.6 ± 1.4 Ma. This is considered a reliable, precise and accurate age for the Hartley Formation and supersedes the published Kober method 207Pb/206Pb age of 1928 ± 4 Ma.

The new Lu-Hf zircon data, supported by published whole rock Sm-Nd and Rb-Sr data, suggests that both the dominant basalts and the rare quartz porphyries of the Hartley Formation were derived from mafic source rocks which had been in the crustal domain from Archaean times.

By contrast with the intracratonic rifts of the other Waterberg Basins, the Olifantshoek Supergroup reflects the development of a western passive margin as the Archaean Kaapvaal Craton rifted and drifted. This was followed by accretion of the Rehoboth Province along the Kalahari Line, accompanied by the development of the east-vergent Kheis Province thrust complex. This created a larger cratonic block against which the 1.2 Ga collisions of Namaqua-Natal terranes impacted. The Kheis Province now yields ~1.17 Ma cooling ages, reflecting the Namaqua collisions, but the true age of the Kheis event is still enigmatic.

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