The Barberton region of South Africa is characterized by a broad variety of granite types that range in age from ca. 3.5 Ga to 2.7 Ga and reflect the processes involved in the formation of Archaean continental crust on the Kaapvaal Craton. These granites are subdivided into three groups, as follows:
A tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite (TTG) suite diapirically emplaced at 3 450 Ma and 3 250 Ma into pre-existing metamorphosed greenstone belt material. TTG melts were derived from melting amphibolite in the lower crust, with individual plutons being emplaced at various crustal levels. The dome-and-keel geometry that characterizes the TTG-greenstone dominated crust at this time is inconsistent with a plate tectonic domain and reworking was likely controlled by gravity inversion or ‘sagduction’;
Regionally extensive potassic batholiths (the GMS suite) were emplaced at 3 110 Ma during a period of crustal thickening and melting of a TTG-dominated lower crust. Subsequent to emplacement of the voluminous GMS granites, the thickened continental crust had stabilized sufficiently for large sedimentary basins to form;
Late granite plutons were emplaced along two distinct linear and sub-parallel arrays close to what might have been the edge of a Kaapvaal continent at 2 800 to 2 700 Ma. They are subdivided into high-Ca and low-Ca granites that resemble the I- and S-type granites of younger orogenic episodes. The high-Ca granites are consistent with derivation from older granitoids in the lower crust, whereas the low-Ca granites may have been derived by melting metasedimentary precursors in the lower-mid crust. Granites with similar characteristics are associated with a subduction zone in younger terranes, although the recognition of such a feature at Barberton remains unclear.
The petrogenesis of granites in the Barberton region between 3.5 Ga and 2.7 Ga provides a record of the processes of Archaean crustal evolution and contributes to discussions related to the onset of plate tectonics.